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We will be UK’s top trading partner, says US official

The US has said it wants to become Britain’s biggest trading partner in a major boost for Brexit.

Leaving the EU would allow the UK to forge ‘even stronger’ ties with its closest ally, American Secretary of State for Commerce Wilbur Ross told British business leaders yesterday.

He laid bare the huge extent of transatlantic trade as the UK is America’s seventh-largest trading partner with nearly $230billion (£175billion) in bilateral trade.

American Secretary of State for Commerce Wilbur Ross, pictured, said leaving the EU would allow the UK to forge ‘even stronger’ ties with the US

The 79-year-old billionaire also took a swipe at the EU, saying it ‘talks free trade but actually is highly protectionist’.

His comments came after President Trump’s call for a ‘very big and exciting’ trade deal with the UK and contradict former president Barack Obama’s claim that Britain would be ‘at the back of the queue’.

Mr Ross said American talks with bureaucrats in Brussels were in deadlock on several issues but the US and UK could ‘quickly fix’ them.

He singled out medical supplies, the automotive industry, chemicals and food products as key areas where the two nations could forge deals.

He told the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference: ‘We share deep bonds across the board – militarily, culturally and linguistically.

‘The US and UK are also the largest single investors in each other’s markets, at a total of $1.2trillion (nearly £1trillion).

‘But our relationship can be even stronger. We want more trade and more investment and we want to be your number one trading partner worldwide.

‘I am convinced a historic trade deal between our two countries would bolster this already-strong partnership. President Trump is very supportive of such a deal and has repeatedly engaged with Prime Minister May on this important topic.’

Wilbur comments are a major boost for the Prime Minister and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox (pictured)

Wilbur comments are a major boost for the Prime Minister and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox (pictured)

His comments are a major boost for the Prime Minister and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who have been engaged in a charm offensive with President Trump’s administration since he took office in January. 

But in a coded warning to groups lobbying for the UK to maintain as close a relationship as possible with the EU – including the CBI – Mr Ross said: ‘It is important that an eventual Brexit agreement takes into account our commercial interests and does not hinder development of the closer, post-Brexit US-UK relationship by continuing diverging standards and regulations and other protectionist measures.’

Dr Fox said Mr Ross’s comments ‘reaffirm the clear will on both sides of the Atlantic to strengthen our bilateral trade and investment relationship’.

CBI president Paul Drechsler said: ‘With a trade deal, there is no magic wand to get that done quickly – and to do a deal quickly with the US would be to run into a bear hug. So we should approach it methodically and carefully and not with a sense of desperation.

‘But we want the best deal possible and it is a big, big world out there. This is our opportunity.’

Chancellor Philip Hammond has been given a fresh warning that continuing uncertainty over Brexit could jeopardise the public finances.

National Audit Office chief Sir Amyas Morse said high levels of government borrowing since the financial crash meant there were already ‘significant risks’ to the finances.

But these could be exacerbated by ‘unexpected developments’, including any unforeseen consequences of leaving the EU, he warned.

High Street hit as sales slump to six-year low 

A chill has swept through the high street ahead of Christmas with evidence of a slump in shopping.

Store sales of non-food goods from clothes and shoes to washing machines fell by 2.2 per cent in the three months to October.

Analysts blamed unseasonal warm weather and suggested people may be holding back in the hope of finding bargains in the Black Friday sales at the end of this month.

The sales figures come from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) which said they were the worst since it began collecting the data in January 2011.

Normally, poor sales in shopping centres and the high street would be rescued by a switch to online. However, this has not materialised.

Sales of non-food products through the web rose by a disappointing 4 per cent in October, which is the lowest annual growth rate for almost five years.