Key House Democrat Hopeful for U.K., Kenya Trade Deals in 2021

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A key House Democrat said he’s hopeful that talks for free-trade deals with the U.K. and Kenya can be completed this year even as President Joe Biden focuses on enforcement of existing agreements with the U.S.’s biggest partners.

The successful negotiation to avoid a physical frontier dividing the island of Ireland after Britain’s departure from the European Union should allow U.S. work with Britain to move forward, Richard Neal, head of the Ways & Means Committee responsible for trade, said Tuesday. The U.S. began talks with Kenya in July as part of a push for bilateral agreements with African nations.

The Biden administration’s enthusiasm for continuing negotiations has been an open question since talks began under Donald Trump, and the new president has pledged to review trade policies such as the deal his predecessor struck with China. Biden in December said that he won’t sign any new trade agreements until he makes major investments in the U.S.

Neal’s chief trade counsel, Katherine Tai, will play a key role in the administration’s trade strategy after she was tapped by Biden to become U.S. Trade Representative. Her nomination awaits Senate confirmation.

“I’m hopeful that they can be completed,” Neal, from Massachusetts, said when asked about talks with the U.K. and Kenya in an online forum hosted by the Washington International Trade Association. “Given what happened with the success of Good Friday agreement once again being recognized and acknowledged, moving on to a bilateral trade agreement with the U.K. makes a good deal of sense. We also have had extensive discussions with Kenya.”

At the same time, Neal pledged to aggressively enforce all the provisions of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement that went into effect last year. That deal passed with widespread Democratic support at the end of 2019 after Neal and Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed to strengthen mechanisms to protect workers’ rights in Mexico.

Neal also said he’s committed to working with Congress and the Biden administration to confront China over forced labor in Xinjiang. China has repressed its Muslim minority in the northwest region in what Secretary of State Antony Blinken said amounts to genocide.

Beyond the U.K. and Kenya, Neal said that he’s an “enthusiastic supporter” of the idea of negotiating a trade agreement with the EU, though he didn’t give a timeline for when that process might take place. The two sides negotiated for three years under President Barack Obama without reaching an agreement and slapped billions of dollars in tariffs on each other under Trump due to a longstanding dispute over illegal aid to Boeing Co. and Airbus SE.

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