By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A future U.S.-UK trade agreement must incorporate strong provisions on worker rights, environmental protection, and enforcement to ensure bipartisan support, U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said on Friday, staking out a claim for Congress to help shape any such accord.
Neal, a Democrat, said he expected to work closely with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in forging a new U.S.-UK trade deal after Britain’s left the European Union on Friday.
Britain is the closest U.S. ally but the two countries face big hurdles in working out a new trade agreement, including a dispute over Britain’s plan to impose a unilateral digital tax.
Washington argues that such taxes would discriminate against big U.S. tech companies like Alphabet Inc’s <GOOG.O> Google, Apple Inc <AAPL.O>, Facebook Inc <FB.O> and Amazon.com <AMZN.O>.
Neal’s comments came days after President Donald Trump signed a revamped North American trade accord at a White House ceremony that excluded Neal and other House Democrats who ensured its congressional passage by adding better protections for workers’ rights and the environment, increased enforcement and measures to avert higher drug prices.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are growing concerned that Trump is circumventing Congress’s constitutional role in setting trade policy by imposing tariffs and signing smaller trade deals that do not need congressional approval.
Neal’s comments made clear that U.S. lawmakers expect to be consulted on a U.S.-UK trade deal after being shut out of Washington’s bilateral trade negotiations with China, Japan and others.
He said the new U.S.-UK trade deal also needed to preserve the freedom of Congress to regulate areas of domestic policy, and respect the achievement of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement between the British and Irish governments, and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland.
Senator Chris Murphy, also a Democrat, said the two countries should ultimately reach a free trade agreement, but said Washington should not reward Britain for leaving the EU and should focus first on reaching a trade deal with Brussels.
In addition to disputes over digital taxes, the Trump administration has also threatened to tax foreign car imports, which could hit British-made Jaguar, Land Rover <TAMO.NS>, Mini <BMWG.DE>, and Honda Civic hatchback <7267.T> cars.
Britain and the United States are also at odds over London’s decision this week give the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei a limited role in Britain’s 5G mobile network.
Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Washington, Kim Darroch, told the Guardian newspaper on Friday there was a “narrow and rocky path” to a U.S.-UK deal and questioned what Britain had to gain in following it.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Tom Brown and Sonya Hepinstall)