EU-US free-trade agreement 'a top priority', says Hague
A free-trade agreement between the EU and the US would be "transformational" and make a "major contribution to economic growth", Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.
At his departmental question session on 23 April 2013, Mr Hague said that negotiations towards such an agreement were "a top priority for the government".
There was a "very good prospect of progress", he said, "given the commitment on both sides of the Atlantic" and "real political will".
"An agreement with the US is potentially worth £100bn a year to EU economies, so we will put an enormous effort into this," Mr Hague added.
Shadow Foreign Office minister Emma Reynolds supported the government's position, claiming that an agreement would be "worth an average £466 a year to each family across the country".
But she warned: "Should the foreign secretary's backbenchers and some of his ministerial colleagues achieve their dream of leaving the EU... there would be little chance of securing a similar bilateral UK-US free-trade agreement?"
Conservative MP and chairman of Commons foreign affairs committee the Richard Ottaway described a EU-US free-trade agreement as the "holy grail", adding: "We would look pretty dumb if we were leaving the EU just as the EU was signing a free-trade agreement with the US."
But another Conservative backbencher, Mark Pritchard, complained that "the EU is very slow to act, and very slow to agree these free-trade agreements. and there is still room for bilateral trade agreements".
Mr Hague declined to speculate about the UK's negotiating position were it to be outside the EU, but he told MPs that the "key decisions [were] coming up on the 14 June at the trade council. I don't think anyone's contemplating leaving the EU before 14 June, if indeed ever."
The foreign secretary added: "Of course, working with 27 countries on these matters can be ponderous and slow, there is no doubt about that. Of course, when it is successful, it is of enormous importance - that is the up-side and the down-side of these things lying with the EU.
"The free-trade agreement with South Korea eliminated nearly 97% of tariffs, and some British businesses are now enjoying a huge increase in exports to South Korea as a result. So we want to see the same on an even greater scale with the US."
Other questioners focused on Sri Lanka, instability in the Korean peninsula and human rights in Colombia.