A New Era Begins in the UK, Pro-Trade PM Truss Could Push for U.S. FTA Talks

Queen Elizabeth & UK PM Truss shake hands in front of fireplace in an ornate sitting room, Jane Barlow photo Getty Images
In her last official act, Queen Elizabeth appointed Liz Truss as new UK PM (Jane Barlow photo, Getty Images)
Sep 12, 2022
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – Last week was a rollercoaster ride for British citizens and Anglophiles around the world.  On Tuesday, September 6th, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Liz Truss as the 56th Prime Minister of the UK, following the resignation of Boris Johnson.  And just two days after receiving Truss, the UK’s longest serving monarch passed away at age 96 after reigning more than 70 years.

Truss, a conservative Member of Parliament, served in leadership and cabinet positions throughout the tenures of Theresa May and Boris Johnson.  Those roles included Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Foreign Secretary, and perhaps most importantly, International Trade Secretary.  As International Trade Secretary, Truss was very pro-trade and helped launch a number of post-Brexit trade agreements for the UK.  In addition to a signed agreement with Japan, her tenure included talks toward a U.S.-UK Free Trade Agreement with former USTR Robert Lighthizer throughout 2020.

“The U.S. rice industry is very much behind talks toward a comprehensive U.S.-UK Free Trade Agreement,” said Mark Holt, an Arkansas rice miller and chair of the two USA Rice Subcommittees that oversee trade policy and promotions for Europe.  “We have a longstanding and strong customer base in the UK and we’d love to see tariff barriers there lifted, especially when we’re looking at the cost added by exchange rates, freight rates, and turbulent global grains markets.  Duty-free access into the UK would benefit both the U.S. rice industry and also help ease costs that are passed along to British consumers.”

The Biden Administration did not reinitiate trade negotiations with the UK since the 2021 presidential transition, and the expiration of Trade Promotion Authority in July of 2021 further stymied the ability to make any meaningful progress towards a pact that would expand market access.  However, USTR Ambassador Tai has held several rounds of trade “dialogues” with her UK counterpart and several U.S. states have signed state-level agreements with the UK to help advance the economic relationship.
Since no rice is grown in the UK, they are solely an importer and have 11 domestic rice mills that further process and then package rice for distribution throughout the country.   According to the UK Rice Association, 88 percent of UK households buy rice, and their industry is vibrant and continuously developing, with overall growth in per capita consumption.  According to USDA export sales data, 23,500 MT of U.S. rice were shipped to the UK for the 2021/22 marketing year, up from just 8,600 MT the prior year.

“We are encouraged to see that someone intimately familiar and supportive of trade agreements is at the helm of the UK government and hope that Prime Minister Truss is able to work with the Biden Administration to bring a comprehensive free trade agreement across the finish line,” said Holt.

According to the White House, President Biden spoke with Truss last week but did not relay that U.S.-UK trade talks were raised as part of the discussion.  

A delegation from the U.S. rice industry will be traveling to the UK next month for further discussions with importers and the government in the post-Brexit and post-232 retaliatory tariff era.