US official warns Britain to stay in EU or risk trade restrictions

© Neil Hall
The US would not be keen to pursue a trade deal with Britain if it were to leave the European Union, one American official has said.It marks the first public acknowledgement by the US of a stance on the upcoming referendum.

Prime Minister David Cameron will call an in/out referendum before the end of 2017 after he has attempted to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s relationship with the EU.

But comments from US official Michael Froman made on Wednesday suggest the UK’s trade relationship with the US would be put under strain if Britain decides to leave the bloc.

The comments challenge a key pledge among those in the ‘out’ campaign, who say Britain would prosper on its own by securing free trade agreements with partners like the US.

Currently the US is Britain’s second largest export market after the EU. Last year it bought £35 billion (US$53.4 billion) worth of goods from the UK.

I think it’s absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU, being part of a larger economic entity,” Froman told Reuters.

We’re not particularly in the market for FTAs [free trade agreements] with individual countries. We’re building platforms … that other countries can join over time.”

He added the UK would still have to pay tariffs to trade with the US if it left the EU.

We have no [free trade agreement] with the UK so they would be subject to the same tariffs – and other trade-related measures – as China, or Brazil or India,” he said.

If Britain were to leave the EU, it would mean they are exempt from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU, which is expected to come into force after negotiations end during the next year.

Froman’s comments come just weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping told Britain he backs a strong and united European Union in his biggest public intervention on the subject to date. Xi said he expected the UK to remain in the EU to act as a ballast against US trade dominance.

On the final day of Xi’s UK state tour in October, China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement expressing the nation’s interest in building stronger economic ties with a unified EU.

The statement followed £40 billion (US$61.4 billion) worth of trade deals which were announced between Britain and China as part of a new economic relationship.

China hopes to see a prosperous Europe and a united EU, and hopes Britain, as an important member of the EU, can play an even more positive and constructive role in promoting the deepening development of China-EU ties,” the statement quoted Xi as saying.