Britain faces long road to post-Brexit trade deals

Wed Sep 7, 2016 7:56am EDT
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By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May wants to make Britain a global leader in trade after Brexit, but former negotiators say the country faces a long slog despite warm words from some world leaders over forging new relationships.

With other countries reluctant to get involved in detailed discussions until Britain's future ties with the European Union are clear, and a lack of negotiators in London ready to begin talks, any firm deals could be years away.

While the government says it can do the groundwork, Britain cannot formally sign trade agreements until it leaves the EU, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said EU member states should not even negotiate deals while still part of the bloc.

"Nobody with any sense from China, the U.S., Brazil or wherever is going to engage with the UK other than a friendly drink in the bar until the UK has a regime with the EU," retired British trade negotiator Roderick Abbott told Reuters.

"That gives them the yardstick against which you negotiate," said Abbott, who during his more than 40-year career worked on trade for the British government, the European Commission and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

May and her team strike an optimistic tone, highlighting nations which have said they are keen to do deals. But behind the scenes, countries are pragmatic.

A senior diplomat from a developed country with which Britain has suggested negotiating a deal said the EU was a more important partner, so any deal with Britain would depend on how it affected his country's trade with the EU.

"They want to talk to us. We're always happy to talk trade. But frankly there isn't much we can seriously talk about in detail, which is really what trade deals are all about, until we know what their relationship will be with the EU," he said, on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.   Continued...

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for a news conference after the closing of G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, September 5, 2016.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo