Why the British international trade minister came to the Brazos Valley instead of D.C.
On Thursday, the British Minister for International Trade Conor Burns visited the Brazos Valley to create trade relationships in the area.
News 3’s Kathleen Witte sat down with Minister Burns at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum for a conversation on his trade goals during this Texas trip.
Minister, why are you in Texas?
I’m in Texas for a very simple reason. Something really important happened in the United Kingdom last Friday evening at 11 p.m. GMT: the United Kingdom left the European Union. I was in Downing Street with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and some other ministers and friends, and the prime minister made the point that that moment marks the beginning of a new beginning. It marks a chance for the United Kingdom to look beyond the European Union for trading partners, to rekindle old friendships. The United States is our number one ambition, alongside the EU, to do a future free trade agreement. I could’ve come to Washington or New York or California—the traditional go-to destinations—but Texas, if it were a country in its own right, would be the tenth-largest economy in the world. I wanted to come to somewhere where there’s great synergy between UK companies and Texans companies to show that we are reaching out as we leave the European Union, not retreating into ourselves. I could think of no better place to start that journey and send that signal than here in the great state of Texas.
What do you picture a trade relationship between the UK and perhaps Texas looking like?
Well, we want to do the free trade agreement with the whole US.
Of course, but what can Texas bring you?
There is a whole lot of stuff that you can do on a state level to make market access easier. This is historically known as the oil and gas state, but actually, increasingly, it’s the energy state. If you look at any of the companies here, what they’re doing on renewables, on wind, on solar—that’s where we see the future as well. We see great opportunities to connect there. We see opportunities to do things together in tech, in agri-tech, in space; I was at NASA yesterday and they’re looking for international partners in some of their future development programs. So I think there’s a huge range of things that we can cooperate, collaborate on together, to the benefit of both our citizens and our mutual prosperity.
A lot has been made of this 11-month window for the UK to get trade deals done or figure out exactly its trade relationship with the rest of the world. How confident are you, after this trip, that you can get that trade relationship set with the US.
What I feel here is what I’d hoped to feel here and what I’d expected to feel here, which is an enormous sense of interest, of goodwill and of ambition. With the state of Texas, what we can do together—look, free trade agreements can take a long time to do, but if there is political will on both sides, they can be done quite quickly. We said we want to do a deal this year with the United States. The president has said that’s his ambition too. We’ve published it through a written ministerial statement only this week—the terms, the mandate that we have for the negotiation, with the US and we want to get down to business. We want to start talking with a view to signing.
Is there any concern that we may have a different president in a year?
Look, we deal with whatever the American people deliver to the American government. We deal with the presidency. We deal with the American government. [It’s the] same way that you deal with us; you deal with whatever the party or the public put into 10 Downing Street. I think the free trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom makes great sense whoever is in the White House and whoever is the president.
That said, specifically this president, has been rather aggressive on trade deals and making trade negotiations. Does that give you any confidence—or pause?
The president has said he wants a comprehensive free trade agreement with the United Kingdom and that he wants it this year. That is the message that he has conveyed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. That’s the message Sec.[Robert] Lighthizer [the US trade repsentative] has conveyed to our secretary of state. That’s the message your ambassador [Robert Wood Johnson] to the Court of St. James in London conveyed to me. That’s the message I’m hearing here. Let’s start talking. Let’s start negotiating. Let’s see what we can do.
Feels like you’re all starting on the same page.
We’re starting on the same page. Whether we end on the same page is a different story, but we are starting with a common objective—a common objective, political will, crucially goodwill, and a shared ambition as to how this can be in the interest of both our peoples.