Trump’s stance on post-Brexit trade deal unclear

   President Donald Trump gave mixed messages during a trip to the United Kingdom last week about whether the United States would seek to sign a free trade agreement with the nation once Brexit takes place.
   In an interview with The Sun published Friday, Trump said a post-Brexit U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement probably won’t happen if the U.K. presses forward with its current strategy for exiting the EU.
   But during a Friday joint press conference with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, according to a transcript, Trump said the United States “looks forward to finalizing a great bilateral trade agreement” with the U.K., adding that “whatever you do” on Brexit “is OK with us. Just make sure we can trade together; that’s all that matters.”
  During the press conference, May said she and Trump agreed Friday that the two countries will pursue an “ambitious U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement” as the U.K. leaves the EU.
   A proposal reached two weeks ago between May and her Cabinet colleagues on how to approach Brexit “provides the platform for Donald and me to agree an ambitious deal that works for both countries right across our economies, a deal that builds on the U.K.’s independent trade policy, reducing tariffs; delivering a gold standard in financial services cooperation; and, as two of the world’s most advanced economies, seizing the opportunity of new technology,” May said.
   Among other things, the Brexit plan would treat the U.K. and EU as combined customs territory, meaning the U.K. would apply independent tariffs for goods destined for that country, but charge EU tariffs for goods destined for the EU, and there would be no need for customs checks for goods flowing between the U.K. and EU, according to the agreement.
   That customs arrangement also would enable the U.K. to ensure businesses paid the correct or no tariff, either up front or “through a repayment mechanism,” after the U.K. is set to leave the EU on March 29, the Brexit proposal says.
   During The Sun interview, Trump said the current Brexit blueprint would likely leave the United States to negotiating with the EU instead with the U.K., “so it will probably kill the deal. … We’re cracking down on the European Union right now because they have not treated the United States fairly on trade.”
   But during the press conference, May said that once Brexit occurs, there will be “no limit” on the U.K’.s ability to strike trade deals around the world, based on the Brexit proposal she submitted to the EU.
   Her Brexit proposal envisions an independent U.K. having its own seat at the World Trade Organization, and specifically mentions the possibility of the U.K. seeking to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
   During the press conference, Trump said that while he had “read reports” that suggested the current Brexit plan would stifle U.K. trade with the U.S., he believed that trading with the U.K. “will absolutely be possible” after talking with May’s colleagues and trade experts.
   “We want to be able to trade, and they want to be able to trade, and I think we’ll be able to do that,” Trump said, according to the transcript. “OK?”
   The U.S.-U.K. Trade and Investment Working Group met July 10-11, according to announcements by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the U.K. government.
   The working group is “laying the groundwork” for a potential post-Brexit U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement after the U.K. leaves the EU, as well as focusing on providing commercial continuity for U.K. and U.S. businesses, workers and consumers and exploring areas where the two countries can collaborate to promote open markets and “free and fair trade” globally as Brexit takes place, the USTR announcement says.