World Economy

There's a 'strong' desire for a US-UK trade deal after Brexit, British trade minister says

Key Points
  • The U.K. trade secretary has said there is still willingness for a fresh U.K. and U.S. trade deal.
  • Liam Fox told CNBC's Nancy Hungerford that He hoped the U.S. would turn to international law to resolves its trade issues with China.
  • On Brexit, Fox reiterated that Britain would walk way from Europe with no deal, if it was forced to.
UK wants to secure US trade deal as ‘quickly as we can,’ Liam Fox says
UK wants to secure US trade deal as ‘quickly as we can,’ Liam Fox says

Liam Fox, the U.K.'s trade secretary, told CNBC that a trade deal between the United Kingdom and the United States is still moving forward, but declined to give a date on when such an agreement could be completed.

Fox is in Singapore where he is attempting to strengthen trade relationships and make the case for the U.K.'s accession to the Comprehensive & Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Britain is on a diplomatic charm offensive around the world, as it looks to prepare for new trade arrangements after it leaves the European Union in 2019.

Fox told CNBC's Nancy Hungerford that President Donald Trump was spearheading the U.S. willingness to set up a new deal and he had made that clear on his trip to Britain in July.

"The president was very clear. I met with the president when he was in the United Kingdom. I have also met with ambassador (Robert) Lighthizer and Secretary (Wilbur) Ross on numerous occasions," he said.

"There is a strong willingness, including in Congress, to see a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States," Fox added.

Fox was reluctant, however, to put a date on when any transatlantic arrangement could be finalized, adding only "as quickly as we can."

US and China

While Fox is in Asia to promote British interests, the trade secretary said he envisioned little opportunity for new deals with China, even as the country's relationship with Washington has soured.

Beijing and Washington have been embroiled in tit-for-tat trade measures as Trump attempts to address what he has perceived as unfair practice by the Chinese.

Fox said the U.K. was unlikely to step into the middle of any trade war between the superpowers, but he hoped the U.S. would turn to international laws in order to address grievances.

"We think that if there are disputes on issues like steel overproduction or lack of market access, we may share the U.S. assessment of the problem, but that doesn't mean that we will be sympathetic to the means of dealing with the problem," he said.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) deals with the global rules of trade between nations and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. Trump has been dismissive of its effectiveness turning instead to the use of tariffs, but Fox said he remained hopeful the United States would see the WTO's value.

"We think that these issues are best dealt with by the rules-based multilateral system, which is based in Geneva," Fox added.

Brexit hardball

UK doesn’t want ‘no deal’ Brexit, Liam Fox says
UK doesn’t want ‘no deal’ Brexit, Liam Fox says

The trade secretary also reiterated to CNBC that the British government is still prepared to walk away from negotiations if the country did not get a good deal for Brexit.

"We don't want there to be no deal. We want there to be a good deal, but our European partners should understand that if we don't get a good deal and we had to walk away, then we would," Fox said.

In August this year Fox said it was likely the U.K. will fail to agree upon a divorce deal with the European Union before it leaves the bloc next March. Fox told U.K. media that "intransigence" by EU officials was "pushing us towards no deal." He put the chance of Britain crashing out without a deal at 60 percent.

When asked if international investors were worried about the U.K.'s future, Fox said many were looking past Brexit.

UK PM Theresa May gives speech in South Africa
UK PM Theresa May gives speech in South Africa

"Most of them look at the U.K. macroeconomics and see a very stable picture. We've seen an increase in investment into the U.K. in recent times. They regard the Brexit process as a short-term process whereas they see their investments in the medium to long term," Fox said.

At the start of a three-day trip to countries in Africa, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has reportedly said it would not be the "end of the world" if Britain exited the European Union with no divorce agreement.

Following those comments, sterling hit a one-year low against the euro.