Transatlantic Trade Update text overlaid on top of images of US, UK and EU flagsThe United States (US) continues to grapple with the rapidly spreading Delta COVID-19 variant while also moving forward with fulfilling its global COVID-19 vaccine donation pledge. The US economy continues to show growth, albeit dampened by global supply chain challenges. This week, the US Senate moves forward with its bipartisan infrastructure bill prior to its upcoming August recess. The United Kingdom (UK) updated its international travel lists this week. The European Union (EU) is moving forward with its visa waiver pre-screening system for foreign travelers, which is set to be active at the end of next year.

In this issue, we also cover:

  • COVID-19 highlights among the transatlantic partners;
  • Notable UK, US and EU developments; and
  • A brief UK-EU trade deal

COVID-19 Highlights

On 4 August, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for developed countries with access to COVID-19 vaccines to refrain from booster shots until other countries are able to be able to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their countries.  He said at a briefing,

[W]e cannot — and we should not — accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.”

That same day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appeared to reject this argument as a “false choice,” countering the United States can offer boosters to vulnerable Americans and continue to donate vaccines to other countries.  Currently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not made the recommendation for a COVID-19 booster shot.  Meanwhile, Reuters reported France and Germany plan to offer boosters to their elderly and immunocompromised starting in September.

On 3 August, US President Joe Biden spoke of the Administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, at home and abroad.  One month later than his goal, last week, the United States reported 70 percent of adult Americans had received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine.  President Biden praised some companies in the private sector, such as Walmart, Google, Netflix, Disney, and Tyson Foods, for requiring employees be vaccinated.  President Biden also confirmed the United States had shipped over 110 million doses of US vaccines to 65 countries.  He spotlighted the United Nations reflected the American donation was “more than the donations of all 24 countries that have donated” COVID-19 vaccines, emphasizing this included the People’s Republic of China (“China”) and the Russian Federation.  Meanwhile, the United States continues to resist pressure to open its ports of entries to international travel, including from the U.K and EU, amid the Delta variant surge.

The FDA indicated this week that it is moving forward with its expedited review of Pfizer’s petition for full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the United States.  The FDA suggests it could conclude its review by early October.  Some believe full approval may help get more Americans vaccinated or provide more legal coverage for private sector vaccine mandates.

On 5 August, the UK announced travelers from France will no longer need to quarantine in England if they are fully vaccinated.  Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and Norway were added to the country’s green list after demonstrating they pose a low risk to UK public health.

This week, the EU Commission affirmed COVID-19 Certificates issued by the authorities of Vatican City State and San Marino will now be recognised as equivalent to those issued by the EU Member States.  The EU established the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate to facilitate travel within the bloc.

On Wednesday, the European Commission approved a supply contract with US-based Novavax to buy up to 200 million doses of its potential COVID-19 vaccine (NVX-CoV2373).  The deal is contingent on the vaccine gaining approval from the European Medicines Agency.  In the US, Novavax plans on filing for emergency use authorization in late September.  In March, Novavax announced its vaccine was 96.4 percent effective against the original COVID-19 strain in a UK trial.  A June US National Institutes of Health (NIH) study reflected the vaccine was 90.4 percent effective in a later trial conducted in the US and Mexico.  The NIH study also reflected, “The candidate showed 100% protection against moderate and severe disease.”

Notable UK Developments

In an open letter to the UK’s institutional investors, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak called on them to invest a greater proportion of their capital in long-term British assets and thereby enable pensions savers to access better returns, as well as support an innovative, greener UK future.  They noted, “Currently, global investors, including pension funds from Canada and Australia, are benefitting from the opportunities that UK long term investments afford, while UK institutional investors are under-represented in owning UK assets.”

This week, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab joined a virtual ceremony with ASEAN Foreign Ministers (which also includes the US) where they welcomed the UK as an ASEAN Dialogue Partner.  He said of the new partnership,

I am delighted that the UK has, today, formally become a Dialogue Partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc – the first new country in 25 years.  This is a landmark moment in the UK’s tilt towards the Indo Pacific.  Our closer ties with ASEAN will help create green jobs, reinforce our security cooperation, promote tech and science partnerships, and safeguard key pillars of international law like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Notable US Developments

On Wednesday, 4 August, US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen spoke on the American economy while in Atlanta, Georgia, saying, “We are now trending towards full employment.  GDP now exceeds pre-pandemic levels.”  She acknowledged uncertainty with respect to the Delta variant, adding,

There are also bottlenecks in certain supply chains, and mismatches between supply and demand have led to price increases. And yet, the data indicates that these mismatches will resolve with time as more businesses are able to keep up with demand.”

On Thursday, 5 August, the Commerce Department reported the US trade deficit climbed to $75.7 billion in June, and appears to be on track to top $1 trillion this year – a first for the American economy.  The US Department of Labor reported Friday morning that the American economy added 943,000 jobs in July, and the unemployment rate fell from 5.9 percent to 5.4 percent.  Notably, this report may not fully reflect possible effects from the recent surge in COVID-19 infections from the Delta variant.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development, Labor and Technology Jarosław Gowin on 4 August.  A readout from the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) reflected Ambassador Tai focused on strengthening bilateral cooperation on mutual priorities such as “tackling challenges posed by anti-competitive countries and economies, improving market access and the regulatory environment for U.S. companies in Poland.”  She also underscored the importance of the Three Seas Initiative.  Also on 4 August, President Biden nominated nine individuals to serve in foreign policy and national security roles.  In addition to Ambassadorial nominees (Poland, Malawi, Benin, and Togo), he announced his intent to nominate Adriana Kugler to serve as US Executive Director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The US Senate was in session this week; the US House of Representatives is in recess until 20 September, though House lawmakers may be called back early to consider the infrastructure deal.  After a rare weekend session, the bipartisan group of Senators released a 2,702-page bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684), on Sunday.  The Congressional Budget Office reported on Thursday that the infrastructure bill would add an estimated $256 billion to the projected federal budget deficit and raise an additional $50 billion in revenues over the 2021-2031 period.  Debate of the bill and related amendments continued into Friday, with a possible final vote over the weekend.  The future of the reconciliation measure, which includes climate and healthcare initiatives, is unclear, as moderate Democrats express concern with the expected $3.5 trillion price tag and progressives remain adamant that they will not advance the infrastructure bill without it.  While the Senate is expected to advance a budget resolution setting out its priorities for reconciliation before starting its own August recess, it will take weeks or more to compile the reconciliation measure.

On Tuesday, 3 August, Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware), who co-chairs the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, suggested during an Atlantic Council webinar that the United States “may actually be able to move first to assessing what the regulatory price already is on carbon in our economy and setting a border carbon adjustment that facilitates our coming together with those closest allies … and putting up an additional cost barrier to high-carbon intensity, lower-cost products, like steel coming from China.”  Last month, the Senator and Representative Scott Peters (D-California) introduced a carbon border tax proposal – the Fair, Affordable, Innovative, and Resilient Transition and Competition Act – that does not include a federal price on carbon.  Their proposal may be part of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.  Meanwhile, the EU is also moving forward with its own carbon border tax proposal.

On 5 August, President Biden announced a set of new actions aimed at advancing American leadership on electric vehicles to outcompete China and tackle the climate crisis.  Among other things, this included signing a new Executive Order that sets an ambitious new target to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric vehicles.

Notable EU Developments

On 2 August, following a complaint by the European Biodiesel Board, the European Commission decided to extend the anti-dumping measures against the US biodiesel by five years, until August 2026.  Meanwhile, Brussels confirmed this week the EU is “on track” to introduce the long-planned European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which will provide for a 90-day admission and institute a €7 fee for British holidaymakers – and visitors from America and Australia – entering the European bloc, effective at the start of 2023.  A European Commission proposal notes that passengers must reveal “whether they are subject to any disease with epidemic potential….or other infectious or contagious parasitic disease”.  This may include a requirement to prove COVID immunity upon arrival.  ETIAS authorisation would last for three years and allow multiple trips across different countries in the bloc.  The UK Government has previously indicated it is also considering a similar visa waiver system for non-British nationals to enter the country.

UK-EU Trade Deal Updates

Reports indicate Lord David Frost, UK Minister of State, will present a proposal to British business and manufacturer leaders this fall with respect to not reaching an agreement with the EU to recognise each other’s safety standards, known as conformity assessments.  The business community has been warning time is fast running out ahead of the 1 January 2022 deadline, and manufacturers could possibly have to move as components needed for use in the UK or EU would no longer have a suitable “kitemark”.