UK trade minister seeks stronger Arkansas ties on visit

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,131 views 

The United Kingdom wants to do more business with the United States and with Arkansas, the U.K.’s minister of state for trade policy said in Little Rock Wednesday (April 13).

Minister Penny Mordaunt was scheduled to spend Tuesday and Wednesday in Arkansas after previously visiting Texas. She met with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, small business leaders, and the University of Arkansas Little Rock.

According to the U.K.’s Department for International Trade, that nation was Arkansas’ sixth largest export market in 2019. Arkansas imports $124 million worth of U.K. goods, and U.K. businesses support 6,400 Arkansas jobs.

In an interview with Talk Business & Politics, Mordaunt said the U.K. sees “massive opportunities” for trading with the U.S. after leaving the European Union in early 2020, a move nicknamed “Brexit.”

Mordaunt, who also represents Portsmouth North in Parliament, said the U.K. and U.S. have had five rounds of negotiations to create what she hopes will be a “best in class” free trade agreement.

“We would like one as soon as possible, and we’re standing ready to open up negotiations again,” she said. “Obviously, we’re in the hands of your administration in terms of the time frame on that, but we’re now having some very constructive conversations.”

In the meantime, she’s been touring states starting in December to find ways of removing business barriers, supporting producers getting goods to market, and creating mutual recognition of qualifications in technical, legal, engineering and other fields.

A particular focus is small and medium enterprises. Her ministry will develop ideas for hosting visits to the U.K. It will be offering webinars and seminars explaining how regulations are changing. Information about doing business in the UK is available at this link.

Minister Penny Mordaunt of the United Kingdom and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Mordaunt said her ministry is likely to sign agreements with other states as early as next month. It’s just now getting started in Arkansas, but she hopes members of the business community will think about what they want from a free trade agreement and how they can do business with the U.K.

“We were trying to find out when we last had a minister here in Arkansas, and we were not able to find that out, and I think that’s a terrible shame,” she said. “So I’m here to rectify that, and this is going to be the start of some conversations to help our respective businesses.”

Mordaunt said the U.S. and U.K. agricultural sectors have shared interests in high-quality standards, but the products don’t compete. Great Britain does not have rice fields, for example.

The push to work more closely with the United States comes after the U.K. voted to withdraw from the European Union. She said her country wants to trade with Europe, but the price of remaining in the bloc was too high. For example, the U.K. was constrained in sharing some national security information with the U.S.

“I might be biased with my background, but the U.K.-U.S. relationship is quite incredible,” she said. “You are our most trusted partner. I have an armed forces background. We operate absolutely hand in glove. There’s no other nation that we trust more, that we’re as interoperable in terms of our defense or cyber, right across the piece. And it should be the same on trade, and part of my job is the national security aspects of trade.”

Mordaunt served as secretary of state for defense in 2019. She said she led training missions to build the capacity of the Ukrainian armed forces, whom she described as “hard as nails.”

She said the United States and the United Kingdom have stood “shoulder to shoulder” in the defense of Ukraine. The United States has supplied 80% of the Ukrainians’ military aid, while the U.K. has been the leader among European nations. The United Kingdom, unlike many European nations, does not depend on Russia for oil and gas.

She said Ukraine must win a total victory over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions with no “messy compromises.” She said a strong message should be sent that actions like Putin’s will generate strong opposition.

“Any inch of soil that he can say is a gain or consolidating a position or territory that he would be disputing, that can’t happen,” she said. “That cannot happen. He has to be defeated, and we have to send a very clear message about our resolve.”