US Congress would oppose an EU trade deal that endangered NI peace, Neal says
The chances of the European Union striking a trade deal with the United States would be endangered if it jeopardised the Belfast Agreement after Brexit, US Democratic congressman Richard Neal has warned.
The new and significant threat to Brussels comes after repeated warnings to London that a future trade agreement between the UK and US would not happen should Brexit imperil the Belfast Agreement.
Mr Neal, chairman of a powerful House of Representatives oversight committee which scrutinises trade deals, said the US congress would oppose an EU trade deal if it risked the 21-year-old peace treaty.
The Massachusetts politician is part of a US delegation, led by the Democratic speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, visiting Ireland and the UK this week.
The delegation warned earlier this week there was no chance of a future trade agreement between the UK and the US should Brexit impact the treaty or the seamless Irish Border.
‘Sanctity of peace agreement’
Mr Neal, speaking to The Irish Times ahead of the delegation’s visit to the Border on Thursday, said trade deals with the UK and the EU were “very desirable” but they had to “maintain the sanctity” of the peace agreement.
“If America wants a trade agreement with the European Union, which I think is very desirable – I want it – at the same time you are back to the same issue on the Border if you do anything that dampens or softens the Good Friday Agreement,” said the Irish-American politician and chairman of the House’s ways and means committee.
It comes as the EU this week said it wants to restart talks on a trade agreement with the US after a past attempt to agree a deal with the Obama administration stalled after three years and was then abandoned.
EU ministers authorised the commission to conduct formal negotiations and has directed EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom to contact US trade representative Robert Lighthizer to plan talks.
The EU wants to negotiate a deal on much narrower terms than the original ambitious TTIP agreement, excluding agricultural products from talks.
Pro-Brexit UK politicians have boasted about future trade deals with the world’s largest countries as a potential benefit of leaving the EU. US president Donald Trump has promised “a very big trade deal with the UK”.
Mr Neal said Ms Pelosi was “stating the obvious” this week when she warned repeatedly that there would be no US-UK trade deal if the peace process was damaged.
He said that he did not think that pro-Brexit Conservative hardliners in the European Research Group, whom the delegation met in London on Monday, should be optimistic about a trade agreement with the US. “Trade deals are exceedingly difficult to accomplish. Why throw in another complexity given how strongly we all feel about the success of the Good Friday Agreement?” said Mr Neal.The Pelosi-led delegation has warned of the challenges of any new trade deal being passed by Congress because of the focus on the Trump administration’s agreement with China and a revised deal with Canada and Mexico under the new NAFTA deal.
Free trade agreements are not universally liked among Democrats and Republicans, and President Trump’s protectionist policies have proven popular with certain parts of the US electorate, particularly in Rust Belt states that have been hurt by increased international competition and the loss of manufacturing jobs.