İrem UZUN -TDO- The U.S. and U.K. formally launched negotiations toward a free-trade agreement, an effort to draw the two economies together as the U.K. exits the European Union and the coronavirus threatens the world economy.

U.K. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer held a video conference call Tuesday at the start of negotiations. The first round of discussions got under way on Wednesday and continued for around two weeks. The two sides, which each have about 100 officials involved in the talks, said in a statement that a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement would “contribute to the long-term health of our economies, which is vitally important as we recover from the challenges posed by COVID-19.”

President Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson have made the negotiations a priority as Johnson seeks close trading relationships outside of Europe and Trump looks to build a network of two-way deals that he feels can offer better advantages to the U.S. The trade between the two countries is already worth about $269 billion a year. The U.S. generally runs a trade surplus with the U.K., generating a nearly $19 billion surplus in 2018. Airplanes and precious metals were the top export items from the U.S to the UK. While vehicles and machinery led the way on the products shipped to the U.S.

Agriculture is expected to be one the most difficult topics in the bilateral talks. There is strong British opposition to genetically modified crops and antibacterial treatments for poultry from the U.S. Critics of Johnson's government say that a deal with Washington will lead to accepting looser U.S. food and environmental standards. Johnson has denied this claim, saying they would drive a "hard bargain". On the other hand, the U.S. wants more access for its farmers to British markets since Trump tries to impress voters ahead of an election, considering one in six workers have applied for unemployment compensation during COVID-19 period.

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