US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday agreed an “Atlantic Declaration” to strengthen economic ties between the two countries, a further sign that the allies are turning their backs on globalization and are seeking to pull China out of key supply chains .
The statement aims to increase trade between the US and UK in areas such as defense, nuclear materials and the critical minerals used in electric car batteries as part of Biden’s effort to build “economic security” among Western allies.
Speaking in the Oval Office, Sunak said the world was on the verge of the biggest technological change since the industrial revolution, but that it also gave opponents “more resources to harm Western democracies.”
Biden, apologizing for accidentally calling Sunak “Mr. President,” made allusions to the war relationship between Roosevelt and Churchill. But British officials said the Atlantic statement was an unsentimental attempt to forge a forward-looking US-UK relationship based on economic security.
The deal comes after hopes of a full-fledged free trade deal between the US and the UK – a dream of Britain’s Eurosceptic Conservatives – were dashed.
The statement is an admission by Sunak, a free market leader and opponent of state subsidies, that he must work with a Biden administration that uses industrial policies and tax incentives to promote green technology.
It is trying to make special US deals for the UK, similar to those negotiated by other allies such as Japan, Australia and the EU, to build new supply chains that reduce dependence on China.
UK electric car manufacturers using UK-made batteries — or products sourced from countries like Japan with which the US has a critical minerals deal — are eligible for tax credits of $3,750 per vehicle under Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, his flagship legislation to promote of green technology.
Biden, meanwhile, has pledged to ask Congress to approve the UK as a “domestic source” under US defense procurement legislation, which British officials claimed would enable faster and more effective cooperation on new military technology.
The statement also focuses on other niche deals, including a “data bridge” to cut red tape for small exporting companies.
The agreement includes an incentive for mutual recognition of qualifications for engineers and later accountants, although this may require state-by-state approval in the US.
Sunak confirmed that Britain will host the first world summit on artificial intelligence regulation in the autumn, saying the UK can provide leadership in developing new rules to mitigate the risks of the technology.
He said people had wondered what sort of partner Britain would be after Brexit, adding: “Judge us by our actions.”
Sunak said the UK remains an attractive investment destination and Britain can now act “faster and more flexibly” to create new rules for emerging technology such as AI.
There were some effusive words between the two leaders. Biden said that “no country is closer to us than the United Kingdom”, while Sunak spoke of the “indispensable alliance”.
But British diplomats admitted some clouds hung over the relationship, reflected by the haze caused by Canadian wildfires that hung over the US capital during Sunak’s visit.
On the bright side, the US and UK have been working closely on Ukraine and developing a military partnership – alongside Australia – to develop nuclear-powered submarines to counter China in the Pacific.
Sunak also helped gain Biden’s confidence by resolving the post-Brexit spat over Northern Ireland’s trade arrangements, though the US president said in May he had to travel to Ireland to “make sure the British don’t mess around “.
“I am fortunate to have a good relationship with President Biden,” Sunak told reporters, shying away from repeating the hackneyed old British claim that he has a “special relationship” with the US.
But Biden has been a critic of Brexit, and Democrats can’t understand why Sunak – who supported the UK’s departure from the EU – limited the country’s influence on his own continent.
Nor do Biden and free-market Sunak agree on the US president’s policy of state subsidies to promote green technology. The British Labor opposition, on the other hand, strongly agrees with the idea.
Both face an election deal with voters in 2024 — potentially fighting concurrent election campaigns next fall — adding to a list of challenges to bring the two leaders closer together.