- European diplomats and foreign policy experts say that a Joe Biden presidency would restore the United States’ strained alliances with Europe.
- Donald Trump’s presidency has put relations between the US and its closest allies under severe stress.
- The president’s attacks on international institutions and his dislike for multilateral action have tested longstanding alliances.
- One senior UK diplomat told Business Insider that they believed a Biden presidency would bring an end to “the venal corruption” of the Trump era.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Joe Biden’s election as US president in November would restore UK-US relations, repair the diplomatic damage caused by the Trump administration, and boost the prospects of a transatlantic trade deal, according to European diplomats and trade experts.
The transatlantic alliance between the US and its European allies has been under growing strain since Trump’s election in 2016.
The president’s attacks on multilateral institutions such NATO, his attacks on Europe’s rapprochement with Iran, and his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord have all tested the long-standing “special relationship” with the UK and other European allies.
The damage has been reflected among the European public, with recent polling showing a collapse in perceptions of America on the other side of the Atlantic.
However, there is growing optimism in European diplomatic circles that much of the damage could be undone were the president to lose in this year’s election.
One senior UK diplomat, who asked not to be named, told Business Insider that a Biden presidency would bring a welcome end to the “venal corruption” of the Trump era.
“A lot of stuff will change if Biden wins,” the diplomat said.
“The venal corruption of the Trump family and the nasty narcissistic aspects of his behaviour — all that will go with a different sort of president,” they said.
“Rather than having a unilateralist America alone policy with a Biden, you would have a ‘let’s work with our allies to find solutions’ approach.”
The diplomat’s comments echo those made by Biden’s foreign policy adviser Antony Blinken, who signaled earlier this year that the US under Biden would rebuild the US’s links with multilateral institutions.
“When Joe Biden looks at the world, one thing stands out,” he told the London think-tank Chatham House, in comments reported by the Guardian. “Whether we like it not, the world tends not to organise itself and, for 75 plus years, the US played the leading role in working to organise the world, establishing the institutions, writing the rules and setting the norms.”
“If we are not doing that, then one of two things happen. Either someone else is, and probably not in a way that advances our interest and values, or no one is, and that can be even worse. Then you have a vacuum which tends to be filled by malevolent things before good things. So the US has a responsibility and self-interest in leading with humility.”
The distancing between Washington and its allies has been particularly keenly felt in the UK where relations with Washington have been severely tested by Britain’s decision to sign off a deal with Chinese telecoms company Huawei to develop its 5G network, despite repeated opposition and threats from the Trumps administration.
Officials in the US were also angered in June by plans for Huawei to build a £400 million research & development centre in Cambridge, England.
That is not to say Biden would adopt a conciliatory approach towards China. In fact, he has signalled that he will take a similarly tough line on China to Trump, and has even criticised Donald Trump for being too soft towards Beijing.
“Democrats are as stern on this issue as Republicans,” said Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia and the Arctic at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The tactics will be very different. I would assume a Biden administration will not instigate tariffs and a trade war against their allies.
“They will try to convince them [instead] to reduce dependence on Chinese investment, particularly in telecommunications. But the message will still be the same.”
“That’s where I think the R&D centre is going to be a significant concern to a Biden administration as much as it would be to a Trump administration,” Conley said.
One UK diplomat told Business Insider: “[Issues] like taking a firm line with China, like Iran — those things will remain bones of contention. These [Biden and his allies] are people who believe in alliances, in the difference between right and wrong, and in the moral standing of the United States as the leader of the free world. But they accept it has to be earned.”
Biden’s hostile rhetoric towards China indicates the state of UK-US relations could well end up being governed by how Boris Johnson chooses to manage the UK’s relationship with Beijing.
The prime minister has not formally signalled that he will pull the UK out of the deal to let Huawei build part of the UK’s 5G network but he indicated this week that he was going to think “very carefully” about whether to proceed with the deal because he “didn’t want to see our critical national infrastructure at risk of being in any way controlled by potentially hostile state vendors.”
Conservative MPs and Downing Street are increasingly worried about the UK’s dependence on China for investment and imports.
Those concerns have only grown due to the coronavirus pandemic, which highlighted the UK’s dependence on China.
A UK-US trade deal will remain challenging
Conley also suggested the UK’s decision may have been driven in part by an assessment on the UK’s part that the US Congress would not approve a free-trade agreement if the Huawei decision did go ahead.
“What I’ve seen over the last several weeks is a significant shift in the UK’s position — whether that’s in part because of the realities of a UK-US free trade agreement, and knowing that Congress would not approve an FTA unless the Huawei issue was addressed, or whether there was now so much pressure coming from intelligence channels and others that the government made a decision that it had to move off its position,” she said.
There is also muted optimism among some trade experts that a Biden administration could bolster the prospects of a UK-US free trade deal, on which progress has stalled in recent months.
While the impact of such a trade deal would be economically negligible — boosting the economy by only 0.16% over 15 years — Downing Street believes it would represent a significant political win and mark a new era of post-Brexit global trade.
Currently, obstacles to a deal include US demands that the UK drop its opposition to importing US agricultural products, as well as the UK’s plans to introduce a digital services tax, which could mean big US tech companies face much higher taxes.
But Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, told Business Insider that a Biden administration would be more likely to be willing to compromise on several sticking points in negotiations.
“I think a Biden administration would be more willing to live and let live,” Hufbauer told Business Insider.
“The Biden insistence on [food safety standards] would be not nearly so insistent as with the Trump administration. So that would make things easier in a deal with the UK,” he said.
Additionally, he said, a Biden administration would also appear more inclined to seek a compromise on the digital services tax, possibly in the form of agreed international cap on the amount of revenue it could raise.
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However, James Kane, a trade associate at the UK’s Institute for Government think tank, said that a Biden administration would be unlikely to drop its current demands on agriculture.
“On trade policy, the US is heavily driven by domestic business interests — and this is particularly true of agriculture,” he told Business Insider.
“The US objective will remain to get US agricultural products into the UK. That will still mean removing tariffs and non-tariff barriers like the ban on hormone-treated beef and chlorinated chicken.
“The US tried to do that with the European Union under Obama, and I don’t see why they’d do it any differently under President Biden.”
“An awful lot of US trade policy is bi-partisan. It has always been America First. Trump has just been the first to put it in such crude terms.”
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