When President Obama came to the UK shortly before the Brexit referendum, he told British voters they would be “back of the queue” for a trade deal with the U.S. At the time, his intervention caused an angry response with #F*ckOffObama trending on social media.
It was only when the result of the referendum was known that it became clear the queue consisted of just two entities: Britain and the EU. According to the former cabinet minister Iain Duncan-Smith, the erstwhile Prime Minister, David Cameron, had “begged on bended knee” for Obama to intervene.
What followed was a whole load of backtracking in Washington, compounded by Donald Trump’s public intervention in favor of a British deal. But last week things got even more confused, when Canada’s trade minister left Belgium, claiming their deal with the EU was off.
In fact, it is even worse than that. Chrystia Freeland was said to have walked out of negotiations “virtually in tears.” She claimed to have been shocked the EU had been incapable of agreeing to a deal with “a country with European values such as Canada, even with a country as nice and as patient as Canada.”
The Canadian Prime Minister is reportedly cancelling his trip to Europe as there will be no deal to sign by the time of the deadline.
The sticking point was the requirement for the EU to get agreement from all 28 member states. In this case the Belgium government needed the agreement of the state government of Wallonia—and it has said no, claiming the deal will damage a few farmers.
France and Belgium are full of very small and not terribly efficient family run farming businesses. For decades the EU has put up massive trade tariffs against North American producers to protect them. Both the Canadian and American trade deals would do away with many of those protections. It will also open up markets for lots of other businesses, but the EU is so obsessed with farming these have been forgotten.
The real driving force behind both deals is the United Kingdom, and after Brexit the country really does not care with whom the EU signs deals. The loss of this influence in Brussels means the protectionists in places like Wallonia will kill the U.S. deal just as they’ve wasted Canada’s time.
So the irony of all this is Obama’s queue may end up only consisting of the UK. London wants to sign deals with the entire Anglosphere, and would probably take the text of the deals with Canada and the U.S. and sign them as is (simply deleting the words “European Union” and replacing it with “United Kingdom”).
The UK is not entitled to sign any trade deals until it leaves the EU in March 2019, but is already planning to buy the Queen a new Royal Yacht to help her with the pitch to other world leaders! The idea is she’s going clock up some miles in a $150m floating palace.
The next President of the United States is going to have to deal with this issue, because business in America want a deal. Alas, as usual, you might have wanted the Europeans—but all you’ve got is us!