Shifting US-UK trade strategy from the art of the deal to the narrative of the deal

Written by

Rebecca Savory


Trade negotiations with the Biden administration will undoubtedly differ from negotiations with the Trump team. Beyond the obvious personnel differences, there are fundamental philosophical differences – especially around their approaches to trade. While trade negotiations with the Trump administration were about the art of the deal, a US-UK trade deal with the Biden administration will focus on the narrative of the deal.

If businesses and organisations interested in a US-UK trade deal successfully build and communicate a narrative around transatlantic trade that guides public opinion, they can ease the contention around key divergent issues and build the political will needed to shift negotiation positions and get a deal done.

President Biden has made clear he is focusing on domestic investment, American workers and making the country more competitive before signing any new free trade agreements. These economic priorities will also shape how the Biden administration approaches trade.

This means that businesses and organisations in the UK with interests in a US-UK trade deal need to make clear why and how their proposals benefit America.

This focus goes beyond Covid-19 recovery and Scranton Joe’s core values and belief in the American story. It’s about the millions of American workers who feel forgotten and left behind – and aren’t convinced that the Democratic Party can deliver. Biden’s promise to do right by the American worker won back just enough blue-collar voters to help Democrats take control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. But these majorities are razor thin and Democrats need to avoid the electoral losses that typically haunt the party in power in midterm elections.

With the 2022 midterms likely to fall during or shortly after US-UK trade negotiations, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress will want to draw a clear line connecting the terms of a US-UK trade deal to the benefits to the average American. Clearly communicating this narrative to will help secure buy-in from the Biden administration and stakeholders in American industry.

The need to focus on the narrative of the deal also holds true for American businesses and organisations looking to make a splash on this side of the Atlantic.

As with most trade deals, agriculture continues to be a key area of contention in US-UK trade negotiations. Divergence on food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards has British farmers and consumers concerned about cheaper American imports that undercut domestic markets and fail to measure up to the UK’s standards.

The fact that the Department for International Trade’s public consultation of trade negotiations with the US cited sanitary and phytosanitary measures as a key area of concern should come as no surprise with terms such as “chlorinated chicken” and “hormone-injected beef” ingrained in the average British citizen’s lexicon. And the imminent release of Part 2 of the National Food Strategy could create further challenges for American agriculture exporters, as Part 2 is expected to include recommendations for a more humane and sustainable food system in the UK.

Agriculture will be one of the final – and highest – hurdles to a US-UK trade deal, but American agriculture exporters can lower this hurdle by correcting the widespread misconceptions in the UK around American agriculture products. They also need to clearly communicate the benefits of a deal to British consumers and exporters – benefits that go beyond lower prices.

Although a US-UK trade deal is less imminent, interested parties in the US and UK should take advantage of time and the resetting of US dynamics to make headway with key stakeholders and lay the groundwork for influence needed to land a deal that is to their benefit.

At Cavendish Advocacy we take a bespoke, integrated approach to influencing target audiences on trade. We use strategic communications to shape public perception and establish a framework for political influence, and through our extensive political networks in the UK, US and Europe we ensure that influence is exerted at home and in potential partner nations.

You can find out more about what this deal means by attending our upcoming webinar with international law firm Cozen O’Connor and its bipartisan government relations team on Wednesday 10th March, 14:00 – 15:00, and hear leading strategists and trade experts from the US and the UK. Details for registration can be found here.


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