Lighthizer Heading to London to Restart U.S.-U.K. Talks on Trade

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U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is expected to visit London in the coming days for talks with British officials aimed at putting plans for negotiations on a free-trade agreement back on track.

The visit will include a meeting with U.K. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, according to people familiar with the matter. He’s also scheduled to address the Oxford Union on Monday, according to the organization’s website.

The so-called special relationship between America and Britain is showing strains after Prime Minister Boris Johnson in late January rejected President Donald Trump’s request to ban China’s Huawei Technologies Co. from its next-generation broadband networks.

The move reportedly led to a heated phone call between the leaders and a delay in a trip Johnson had planned to the U.S.

Trump wants allies to ban Huawei on concerns that the Chinese telecom giant is vulnerable to state spies. Huawei strongly denies that it poses a security risk.

Huawei Decision

Lighthizer is the latest senior U.S. official to visit the U.K. in recent weeks with the Trump administration eager to both try to apply pressure on Johnson to reverse his Huawei decision and to make progress on trade negotiations that both leaders have touted.

White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney last week sought to convince Downing Street to reverse the Huawei decision.

One person close to the talks said Lighthizer’s discussions would be focused on nailing down a plan for negotiations that would themselves be formally launched at a later date, possibly by Trump and Johnson. The prime minister is expected to visit the U.S. in June for the Group of Seven summit.

The two countries have struggled for a few years to get negotiations going. The U.S. was preoccupied last year with a trade war with China that led to a partial agreement signed Jan. 15, and Brexit only became official on Jan. 31.

The Trump administration in October 2018 notified Congress of its intent to negotiate a trade deal with the U.K. after Brexit. Four months later, the U.S. released its negotiating objectives for the talks.

Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters on Tuesday that he expects the U.K. plans to publish its negotiating mandate for U.S. trade talks “towards the beginning” of next week. But Johnson has made signing an agreement this year with the European Union a higher priority.

EU Discussions

Trump said as recently as December that he looks forward to striking a “massive new” trade deal with Johnson’s government after Brexit.

“This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the EU,” Trump tweeted in a congratulatory message after Johnson’s mid-December election win.

But after the U.K.’s Huawei decision, Larry Kudlow, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said the U.S. would focus first on a trade deal with the EU.

Kudlow said in an interview Feb. 6 that the U.S. and U.K. were “in the preliminary stages of preliminary talks” for a trade deal. “We are all interested in doing something. But there’s no structure to it yet,” he added.

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