“I’m quite optimistic,” Mnuchin said at an event held at the Chatham House think tank in London on Jan. 25. He was responding to a question about the likelihood of the two countries signing a much-anticipated agreement on trade.
President Donald Trump has been promising a “massive” new trade deal with Britain, the United States’ seventh-largest trading partner, since British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s election win in December.
Mnuchin said he spoke to British finance minister Sajid Javid ahead of the Chatham House event, adding that both of them viewed the deal as pivotal.
“We’re focused on trying to get this done this year because we think it’s important to both of us,” Mnuchin told participants at the event.
Earlier, Javid said a trade deal with the United States would take a back seat to an agreement with the European Union, Britain’s biggest trading partner. Speaking at the just-concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Javid said a deal with the EU is Britain’s “first priority,” prompting Mnuchin to say he was a “little disappointed” that U.S. talks weren’t at the top of the list.
Mnuchin said he didn’t expect Britain’s prioritization of talks with the EU would pose significant delays to an agreement with the United States.
“I think a lot of the issues can be dealt with simultaneously, and again, we look forward to continuing a great trade relationship. If anything, I think there will be significantly more trade between the U.S. and the UK,” he said.
Senior officials in the UK government have reportedly been pushing for the deal with the United States to assume top priority. Unnamed sources cited by Business Insider said one of the officials pressing for such prioritization is Crawford Falconer, Britain’s chief trade adviser. Falconer reportedly argued it would be good optics for the recently elected British government to show they can deliver on trade and strike a deal with the United States.
Falconer said it would be a major symbolic moment for Britain as it enters a post-Brexit world, and would represent a victory for the UK government, amid warnings about the difficulty of negotiating with the United States.
Vexing issues to be resolved between the two countries include opening up the British health care system to U.S. drug companies and allowing chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef into the UK market.
Theresa Villiers, Britain’s environment secretary, told the BBC the two foods would continue to be subject to a ban after Brexit.