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Downing Street plays down prospect of joining North American trade partnership

Downing Street plays down prospect of joining North American trade partnership
Stand-alone deal with US remains Boris Johnson’s priority, says aide

Downing Street has poured cold water on the prospect of the UK joining a North American free trade area with the US, Mexico and Canada.

The idea of a bid to join the USMCA partnership was floated during Boris Johnson’s trip to America, as it became clear that the prime minister had been forced to give up his dream of a post-Brexit free trade agreement (FTA) with Washington.

A senior government source said the “ball is in the US’s court” over expanding the partnership beyond the North American continent for the first time.

The expression of interest appeared to mark a fresh step in the reorientation of UK trade ambitions away from Europe, following Britain’s application to join the CPTPP Pacific trade partnership.

But Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson indicated that any consideration of a USMCA application was at an embryonic stage and that a stand-alone FTA with the US remained the prime minister’s primary goal.

“What we are focused on is the US deal,” said the spokesperson. “There are no plans to go beyond that at this stage. That is the priority for us.”

Foreign secretary Liz Truss, who has accompanied the PM on his US visit, is likely to face questions about the UK’s ambitions when she visits Mexico on Thursday for talks with her counterpart there.