Reports emerged that the US maintained its strong stance on British Steel due to concerns at British threats to trigger Article 16, the safeguard clause in the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol. The US however lifted tariffs on European steel, suggesting that Washington is politicising trade with post-Brexit Britain.
The Trade Minister said the report: “Might be true in terms of how some people in the US feel, but it is a false narrative. These are two entirely separate issues.”
She added: “We don’t do ourselves any favours if we perpetuate these false narratives”.
The Trump-era tariffs of 25 percent on steel products and 10 percent on aluminium were imposed on the EU in 2018 when the UK was still part of the trading bloc.
The US agreed to end the duties on EU products in the autumn, but the tariffs, which nearly halved UK steel exports to its second-largest market, remain in place on British steel.
The US is already a significant UK trading partner, accounting for £1 in every £6 of British trade.
Some smaller deals have already been reached – such as the export of British beef to the US, after a ban of more than 20 years.
The UK department of trade said: “We do not see any connection with this particular issue and the Northern Ireland Protocol and it will in no way affect the UK’s approach.”
It added: “That is because significant changes are needed to the Protocol in order to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market”.
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In September, President Joe Biden played down the idea of a trade deal with Britain in a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Speaking in September to reporters in the Oval Office before the talks, Mr Biden said: “We’re going to talk a little bit about trade today and we’re going to have to work that through.”
He did not counter the assertion from his predecessor Barack Obama that the UK would have to join “the back of the queue” in seeking a trade deal after Brexit.
Ms Mordaunt said that International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan would be holding talks about steel and other issues with her American counterparts next week.
She also defended the UK’s approach to discussions on the Northern Ireland protocol: “We have acted in good faith. We will do more to tell America we have acted in good faith and we are determined to be pragmatic. Lord Frost [the Brexit Minister] is going to do that.”
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The Minister was answering a question from the SNP MP and chair of the International Trade Committee Angus MacNeil, who said: “Does she welcome America keeping control?” – a reference to the Brexiteer slogan that Brexit would allow the UK to “Take Back Control”.
A Department for International Trade spokesman said it welcomed the US government’s willingness “to address trade issues relating to steel and aluminium”.
He added: “We remain focused on agreeing a resolution that sees damaging tariffs removed to the benefit of businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Gareth Stace, director-general of UK Steel, a trade group, said: “The UK’s steel sector and our customers in the US urge the UK and US governments to continue to work together to find a solution to the issue of Section 232 tariffs, and to strain every sinew to do so.”