- Talks between the US and UK for a post-Brexit trade deal have been ongoing this year in the run up to the presidential election.
- Britain’s biggest business group is calling for a swift deal between the two countries with greater rights for individuals to cross the Atlantic to trade and work.
- Lord Karan Bilimoria sits in the House of Lords, in the UK Parliament and is President of the Confederation of British Industry.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Britain and the US share one of the oldest and strongest alliances in the world. Whether it is our shared language, close cultural ties, or a belief in freedom and democracy, our partnership has taken many shapes and forms over a long period of time. A common thread – and perhaps the most durable – that connects us, is the spirit of free enterprise.
I cannot think of two nations which have benefited so hugely from trade between each other than ours. We have the world’s largest bilateral investment relationship, worth well over $1 trillion, supporting millions of jobs both directly and indirectly and helped to bring prosperity to many communities here and in the UK. Take the Pacific Northwest, British aerospace firms have become supply chain mainstays and stalwart job creators – supporting over 22,000 in Washington state alone. And across the pond, new investments from Google and Facebook worth a combined total of nearly $2.6 billion are adding 4,000 jobs to London’s burgeoning tech sector.
That’s why businesses on both sides of the Atlantic are excited about the possibilities of striking a trade deal and deepening that partnership further. It’s good to see talks have been progressing well with businesses being a central part of the conversation. We know a comprehensive chapter to support small and medium-sized businesses has been a priority in the first few round of negotiations, and that officials on both sides have shown willingness to discuss cooperation on financial services.
But with the election around the corner we must keep the momentum going for whomever resides in the Oval Office come November. Delivering a trade deal between our two countries so soon into the next administration could reignite global trade relations, which have stagnated in recent years. Making trade easier between our two great nations can also play a crucial part in how our battered economies recover from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.
The UK is the single largest investor in the United States, investing more than $560 billion in the US. British companies have created high paid, high quality jobs in a range of industries from manufacturing and tech to financial services across all 50 states. And while a million Americans work for British companies in the United States, a million Brits work for American companies in the UK. My own joint venture partner Molson Coors owns the largest brewery in the United States, in Colorado, but it also owns the largest brewery in Britain, in Burton-on-Trent in the Midlands, where Cobra beer is brewed.
It’s a transatlantic relationship that works both ways.
It’s been frustrating to see much of the attention on the negotiations in the UK centre around agriculture and healthcare, important as they are. But as those conversations go round in circles, we risk losing sight of what is really up for grabs, for smaller businesses, and the services sector.
Right now, of the small UK firms that export 40% do so to the US, making the US second only to the EU as an important market destination. Small businesses are the backbone of any economy and vital exporters. Abolishing trade barriers and cutting tariffs can help smaller firms and entrepreneurs’ access new markets and allow ambition to thrive. Making it simpler for businesses to export, with less paperwork to navigate, would encourage more of those small US and UK businesses, from breweries to booksellers, to look at trading across the pond.
There’s also huge potential to expand services trade, particularly through making it easier for skilled workers to make that leap overseas. Both our countries hold the title of world’s largest service exporter, and we are natural leaders in industries like finance and tech.
However, only 20% of UK services firms export to the US. The ability for UK nationals to access simplified and cost-effective temporary residency visas would enable British firms to expand their presence in the United States, win more business, and create more jobs in both of our countries. Work visas are an equally important issue area for American businesses, given that the UK is the single-largest destination for US services exports As this barrier can’t be addressed in a trade deal due to provisions in Congress, the UK will need to directly engage with leaders on Capitol Hill to ensure this world-class pipeline of talent can move back and forth across the Atlantic.
And while a formal agreement is a priority – there is so much we can do outside Washington to improve trade ties. The UK will need to look elsewhere to state capitals like Raleigh, Denver, and Sacramento, where lots of significant barriers are regulated – such as professional qualifications and government procurement rules. The UK needs an ambitious strategy to start a dialogue with state governments and get the ball rolling on how to relax these provisions. State officials will find no shortage of British companies lining up to invest if their market becomes easier for America’s biggest trading partner to navigate.
As negotiators enter further rounds of talks in the coming months, businesses will be waiting with bated breath to see what additional progress can be made. Ultimately, a US-UK free trade deal has the opportunity to strengthen our already special relationship, between the two greatest cheerleaders for free and fair trade. Our shared values, language and history together should make it easier to seal the deal when the time comes.
Lord Karan Bilimoria sits in the House of Lords, in the UK Parliament and is President of the Confederation of British Industry.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).