The U.S. and UK travel restrictions look increasingly absurd and need to go now.
The story that Jamie Dimon, CEO of BAB member, JP Morgan is skipping the UK on his European business trip but is going to France and Germany should make UK politicians think hard about their current travel policies, but if recent evidence is anything to go by it won’t make any difference. I get calls and emails every day from people wanting to make trips across the Atlantic for business reasons who find that they are blocked by policies which may have made sense 15 months ago but look increasingly outdated. The frustration that many people feel is made worse by a sense that these rules are being waived for the political classes; we saw this at the G7 and there isn’t a day that goes by without an overseas delegation in London for ‘government talks’ without any quarantine requirement.
The sense that we are in the last chapter of Animal Farm is made even worse by the UK government’s decision to exempt from quarantine 2,500 ‘VIPs’ who want to watch the UEFA cup football matches at Wembley. To be clear, I want these events to go ahead, I just want everyone to be treated in the same way.
And of course, the U.S. position is equally unsupportable. The 212F provisions which block people from the UK from entering the USA, regardless of their vaccination status, need to be lifted immediately. We know that some exemptions are available, but they are hard to get and not available to the thousands of business people who make regular trips to the USA in normal years to see their customers and suppliers and do what it takes to drive their businesses forward. U.S. citizens are now free to come and go as they please if they have been vaccinated, so why on earth should these rules not be extended on the same terms to other countries?
Having got that off my chest, a quick update on the U.S.-UK Free Trade Agreement: The UK has made very good progress in negotiating new agreements since it left the EU, notably with the EU itself, with Japan, with heads of terms agreed with Australia and accession talks starting with the CPTPP. Getting these agreements signed is an important part of the UK’s agenda and receives broad political support. In the USA, with the change in administration, the momentum to negotiate new agreements is much less clear and this has been reflected by the clear pause that Katharine Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative has shown that she is taking. This not to say that a U.S.-UK FTA is impossible but if the UK wants to force this onto the Biden agenda, they will need to take a creative approach. Trade liberalization and market access are less important to the U.S. with its huge domestic market but what does matter is sending signals about high standards for workers and environmental/climate issues. It is not clear to us that these ideas really belong in a trade agreement between countries with already high standards but the UK should think carefully if they can find a way to accommodate these ideas in order to get the more traditional things that they really want.
Finally, I am pleased to report that as BAB comes towards the end of its financial year, we are able to look back on an extraordinary 12 months of activity on your behalf. Our policy work has focused on the issues that matter most to our members, both short term (like the air corridor) and long (like the FTA and all that goes with it); our trade promotion work has shone a light on the successes and challenges of doing businesses across the Atlantic, especially for SMEs and we have used our convening platform as never before… to bring expert minds together on a whole range of issues facing boards and CEOs in our increasingly complex world.
We still have a number of important events before the summer which you can see here and I hope we will see many of you at one of these events before we take a break.