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Hope for US trade pact as Commonwealth body opens America branch

A major Commonwealth body has announced it will open a branch in the United States, boosting Britain’s hopes of strengthening trade links with the country after Brexit.

In an “historic” move, the Royal Commonwealth Society will set up an office in the state of Mississippi. 

Phil Bryant, the Governor of the state, has agreed to serve as the branch’s chairman on the board of governance. 

A spokesman for the Royal Commonwealth Society said: "The fraternal links between the UK and the USA are strong and well-established, beyond our language, common legal systems and common interests.

"In a similar vein the US has natural connections based on language, culture, commerce and security, with a breadth of Commonwealth countries.

"The establishment of a Branch of the RCS in the US will serve to strengthen these links to mutual advantage."

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May have both said they want a UK-US trade deal after Britain leaves the European Union

Officials from both countries have already held talks, but an agreement can only be signed once Britain formally leaves the bloc in March 2019. 

On Wednesday, the new US Ambassador to the UK said the special relationship between the UK and the US will remain as strong as ever after Brexit. 

Woody Johnson vowed Britain would always have a “strong and reliable trade partner” in the US regardless of what happens once the UK exits the union. 

He said: “Britain’s decision to leave the European Union takes your country into new territory — but you are not heading there on your own.

“The United States is committed to standing with the UK through Brexit.”

It comes as Downing Street said Britain is committed to securing an "ambitious free trade deal" with the EU after Brexit. 

Mrs May's official spokesman said: "What we are absolutely focused on is making the best of the opportunities provided by Brexit.

"We are working towards an ambitious free trade deal and securing a deep and special partnership with the EU." 

Britain’s Brexit team is ready to start trade talks with Brussels, but EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has refused to discuss future trade arrangements until the divorce bill has been dealt with. 

Business leaders have voiced concern about the stalemate, warning it could affect a constructive UK exit. 

BusinessEurope, a group representing business federations across Europe, said companies need certainty to prepare for future arrangements. 

A statement said: "The slow pace of the negotiations is of special concern to business as it might jeopardise an orderly and constructive exit of the UK from the EU."

More than 100 companies, with over one million workers in the UK and EU, have also signed a letter to Brexit Secretary David Davis and Mr Barnier, stressing the importance of making progress on a transition deal. 

The letter said: “Businesses across the EU and UK are clear: being able to plan for a transition of up to three years that avoids a cliff edge is critical for our collective prosperity.

"We are therefore writing to urge both sides to be pragmatic and determined to move to the next stage of the negotiations.

"Until transitional arrangements can be agreed and trade discussed the risk of 'no deal' remains real and has to be planned for, with inevitable consequences for jobs and growth on both sides."

Mrs May will set out her plans for Brexit in a speech in Florence on Friday.