US president Donald Trump will prioritise a trade deal with the EU over a post-Brexit agreement with the UK, according to officials in Washington.
Donald Trump speaking in the run-up to the US presidential election
During a visit to the White House last month, German chancellor Angela Merkel convinced Mr Trump that a US-EU trade agreement would be simpler than expected, sources close to both camps told The Times.
Mr Trump is now of the opinion that ensuring the tariff-free exchange of goods and services with the EU is more important than securing a similar deal with Britain, a source close to the White House said.
The value of US exports to the EU was $270bn last year, five times the value of exports to the UK, $55bn. The gap on imports was even wider: the country imported $417bn worth of goods from the EU last year, compared to $54bn from the UK.
On returning from Washington, Ms Merkel told cabinet colleagues that Mr Trump had “very basic misunderstandings” about the prospect of an US-EU trade deal.
“Ten times Trump asked her if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany. Every time she replied, ‘You can’t do a trade deal with Germany, only the EU’,” a senior German politician told the paper.
“On the eleventh refusal, Trump finally got the message. ‘Oh, we’ll do a deal with Europe then.’”
Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s trade commissioner, will meet US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and other officials next week for informal talks. The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which Mr Trump abandoned after his election, could be revived, or a new deal could be struck.
The news echoes then-president Barack Obama’s warning last year that Britain would be at “the back of the queue” for a trade deal if it left the EU.
It runs contrary to what Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said after meeting Mr Trump’s advisers in January, declaring that Britain would be “first in line”.