Wilbur Ross talked up the prospect of an agreement between the two global superpowers over the coming months and said trade talks between them are progressing well with no “unsurmountable” issues emerging. Britain has been locked in crunch talks with the European Union for much of this year, with the deadline set by Boris Johnson of October 15 to come to terms on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). But negotiations have also been ongoing with Washington, with a fifth round of talks, many of which have been taking place virtually because of the continued coronavirus pandemic, due to begin later this month.

An upbeat Mr Ross said a deal is unlikely to be secured this year but expressed “very little doubt” both sides will reach an agreement in the new year.

Mr Ross added agricultural standards remains one of the key sticking points after the four rounds of talks, with the US wanting to be able to sell agricultural products into Britain using standards which the EU had not allowed.

But he insisted he there are no significant problems that has seen either negotiating team declare “I’m putting down my pencil”.

The US commerce chief told The Daily Telegraph: “A lot of progress has been made on agreeing texts and we certainly have clarified some differences, certainly clarified some points of agreement.

“Ambassador (Robert) Lighthizer (the US Trade Representative) and I and others feel it’s not so likely that we’ll have a deal by the end of December.

“But as to whether we will get a deal, I have very little doubt.”

However, Republican Mr Ross warned trade talks would certainly be delayed if Joe Biden wins the election and takes office at the inauguration on January 20.

He said the Democratic presidential nominee taking on Mr Trump would first have to appoint his own trade representative, secure that person’s approval by the Senate, and potentially get new UK-US negotiation objectives signed off by Congress.

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Commenting on the prospect of Mr Biden defeating Mr Trump in the Presidential election in a move that could ultimately change the path of trade talks, he added: “If there were to be a big change in direction that would be a very major setback in the timing and perhaps in the substance.”

While Mr Ross insisted “a lot of progress has been made”, meeting the political calendar is a whole new matter, as Britain has not been able to legally hold trade talks as it only officially left the EU on January 31 of this year.

Mr Ross added: “Even for a really rapid trade deal, a year and a half goes by in a wink and a blink.”

Despite his optimism for a trade deal to be signed in the new year if Mr Trump triumphs next month, the US commerce chief would not be drawn on a timeline in which an agreement would be signed.

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He said: “The important thing isn’t what day it gets signed. That will be a celebratory day but it’s not the important thing.

“The important thing is we’re on the right track, there don’t seem to be any unsurmountable issues that have come up thus far and therefore directionally we’re in a good place.

Mr Ross also praised the relationship between Mr Johnson and Mr Trump, describing it as “excellent” because they both share several similar personality traits, particularly their ability to stand up to the opposite side in trade talks.

He said: “I think personality-wise Boris Johnson and the president have more similarities to each other than let’s say either one did to Mrs Theresa May,” said Mr Ross, referencing the previous prime minister.

“Stylistically they’re similar. They’re both a little bit bold in their approach to things. They’re both willing to take some risks on trade especially.

“Whether one likes it or not, you saw some of the initiatives Boris Johnson has undertaken relative to the EU. Those took some courage. The president also has quite a bit of courage in trade as well.”

“Now they both have shared this common hardship of having come down with Covid-19, and there’s nothing that binds two people together more than experiencing common hardship.”



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