British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak—the U.K.’s third prime minister in the past year—visited the White House on Thursday in his first official trip to the U.S.
This is the fourth time that Sunak and President Joe Biden have seen each other in the past four months. But familiarity isn’t breeding much in this relationship.
The big announcement to come out of this latest Biden-Sunak meeting was the grandiosely named “Atlantic Declaration for a Twenty-First Century U.S.-U.K. Economic Partnership.”
Here’s a hint: If you have something genuinely impressive to announce, you don’t need to go big on the name. “Lend-Lease” worked for Franklin Roosevelt.
A good bit of the Biden-Sunak declaration is to undo damage that the U.S. just finished doing. In the wildly misnamed Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. gave tax credits to domestic processers of critical minerals—thereby discriminating against most of its closest allies, including the U.K. and Japan.
The new declaration promises—for all that promises are worth in Washington—to work through negotiations with the U.K. to treat Britain as though production of the minerals there is of U.S. origin.
That’s fine. But it’s not progress. It’s just returning us to the old status quo.
Of course, the Biden-Sunak declaration piles on a lot more promises. There’s one about a “Joint Clean Energy Supply Chain Action Plan,” and another about “Ensuring U.S.-U.K. Leadership in Critical and Emerging Technologies,” and yet another about “Strengthening Our Alliance Across Defense, Health Security, and Space.” And two more besides all those.
If any of this results in more modern controls on defense-related trade between the U.S. and the U.K., that will be great. The much-heralded AUKUS alliance among Australia, the U.K., and the U.S.—as the private sector has pointed out repeatedly—can’t work under the existing system of U.S. trade controls.
But the problem—or one of the problems, at least—with the declaration is that the U.S. loves this kind of vague, open-ended commitment to do nothing in particular.
For example, late last year the U.S. and the U.K. held the sixth U.S.-U.K. Small and Medium-Size Enterprise Dialogue. That dialogue has had no identifiable results and likely never will have any. Then there’s the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, also announced last year. And don’t forget the U.S-Pacific Island Country Trade and Investment Dialogue, launched this year.
The key to all of these gabfests is that the Biden administration doesn’t want to give other nations more access to U.S. markets, even if the U.S. gets more access abroad in return.
The administration doesn’t actually want to strengthen the multilateral trading system, i.e., the rules-based international order that liberals love to praise. And it doesn’t want to reduce costs for consumers by reducing tariffs on U.S. imports.
But if the U.S. isn’t willing to give anything, it’s not going to get anything.
All the dialogues and frameworks in the world won’t alter the fact that other countries won’t change policies that we don’t like in exchange for nothing at all. And right now, the U.S. is giving other countries nothing but sweet words.
In other words, we’re not negotiating. We’re just talking.
And notice one more thing—while Congress will have to be involved in bits of the new “Atlantic Declaration,” most of it is firmly under the Biden administration’s control. There’s no role for business, except insofar as it’s shaped by U.S. agreements, guidelines, and regulations.
To the extent this declaration has any substance at all, it’s grounded in the belief that governments know best.
The U.K. has made a lot of policy mistakes over the past 13 years, from indulging in masses of easy-money quantitative expansion, to locking down harder and longer than virtually anyone else under COVID-19, to pouring money into the pit known as the National Health Service.
But one thing Britain’s done decently on since Brexit is trade—remarkably, the U.K. is now a Pacific trading power.
Unfortunately, under Biden, the U.S. simply doesn’t have a trade policy. So, Sunak has been left to make the best of a bad job. Hence, the Atlantic Declaration.
This is at best a nothingburger of an announcement that’s grounded in fallacies and bad ideas.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal