U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at a White House press conferenceManuel Balce Ceneta (AP)
US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Thursday an intensification of economic ties between their countries. It is a consolation prize for the British and his aspirations for a free trade agreement, and that seals the recovery of the traditional bilateral friendship after a few years of estrangement from the era of Donald Trump. "We can count on each other with absolute confidence," said the head of the British Government at a joint press conference after both met in the Oval Office.
The so-called "Atlantic declaration" signed by the two leaders foresees an increase in bilateral cooperation in areas from the energy transition to the defense industry, including the development of hypersonic missiles. It also stipulates that both countries will negotiate a trade agreement on critical minerals, essential in the energy transition to cleaner sources: they are needed to manufacture solar panels and the batteries of electric vehicles, among others. At present, its extraction and processing are almost entirely controlled by China.
The two countries also promise to increase their collaboration in the development of artificial intelligence, semiconductors and quantum technology, among other cutting-edge technology sectors. They also want to strengthen the reliability of supply chains.
The agreement has been drafted with the idea of confronting China and Russia, the two countries that have established a quasi-non-military alliance, and seeks to strengthen the economic security of their nations, an increasingly priority objective in the foreign policy of Washington and other Western allies. This doctrine, which has gained strength in the wake of the war in Ukraine and what the US perceives as risks of "economic coercion" by Beijing, subordinates trade and industrial policy to national security considerations rather than to the principles of free trade.
"China and Russia are willing to manipulate, exploit or steal our intellectual property, use technology for authoritarian purposes and deprive us of fundamental resources such as energy. They won't get it," Sunak said.
Sunak's visit sought to send the message that bilateral relations return to their course of closeness, after a few years in which the mandates of Donald Trump on one side of the Atlantic, and Boris Johnson and Liz Truss on the other, motivated a certain distance between the two governments.
Thursday's meeting is the fourth between Biden and the British prime minister in less than a year. The first took place during the G20 summit last November in Bali. It was followed by meetings in California to announce a nuclear submarine deal for Australia within the Aukus alliance in March and in Belfast to mark 25 years of the Good Friday peace accords for Northern Ireland in April.
On each occasion they have shown harmony, either in the clear support for Kiev after the Russian invasion of Ukraine fifteen months ago, or in a position of firmness vis-à-vis China, symbolized precisely in the Aukus agreements.
Both leaders planned to address in their bilateral issues such as the war in Ukraine or economic security, in areas such as the protection of supply chains or the protection of national economies against coercive measures by other countries. According to the British embassy in Washington, the head of the British government planned to express London's willingness to "prioritize economic security in a similar way to how we have historically prioritized security, defense, intelligence sharing."
Sunak also wanted to address the UK's aspirations around artificial intelligence, one of its top priorities. The prime minister has called for this autumn the first global summit on AI in London. According to British media, it also aspires for a future global regulatory agency to be based in that capital.
"The United States is our closest ally. They and we are the respective partner we turn to first in all cases, from ensuring the security of our citizens to growing our economies... That is why it is so important for a British prime minister to forge a close and frank relationship with the president of the United States: on every global issue you will see us working side by side," the head of the government said in London before leaving for Washington.
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