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UK signs agreement to boost trade with Florida

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The UK’s business and trade secretary has signed a deal to increase trade with Florida, the British government’s latest pact with a single American state as it awaits a broader, post-Brexit US free trade agreement.

The memorandum of understanding, signed on Tuesday by Kemi Badenoch and the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, is the seventh deal between the UK and individual US states.

The UK said the deal would focus on space, financial technology, artificial intelligence and legal services.

The UK government is keen to secure a deal with the US as a central part of its post-Brexit efforts to increase trade with countries beyond the EU. However, progress has been slow despite the Conservative party pledging in its 2019 manifesto to reach an agreement within three years.

In June the US president, Joe Biden, and the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, signed an “Atlantic declaration” that will allow British businesses to access some US subsidies, but which stopped short of a free trade agreement.

In the meantime the UK has focused on state-level deals, most recently with Washington state. There are similar accords with Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah.

State-level deals cannot rival country-level free trade agreements for impact because they cannot reduce tariffs, but they can offer some advantages in easing business, said Sam Lowe, a partner at the trade consultancy Flint Global.

Previous agreements have included provisions to recognise professional qualifications and remove regulatory barriers to foreign businesses.

Badenoch travelled to Jacksonville, Florida, to sign the deal with DeSantis, one of the most prominent challengers to Donald Trump for the Republican party’s presidential nomination. His White House run has been weighed down by a high-profile battle with Disney over his stance on LGBTQ+ rights.

Badenoch said: “Florida is a major economy in its own right, with a bigger GDP than most European countries.

“From launching satellites to developing the latest fintech software, Florida’s leading hi-tech companies offer huge opportunities to the UK’s rapidly expanding tech sector.

“Today’s signing shows our US state-level strategy is working and delivering for UK firms, giving them a competitive edge in some of the most exciting markets in the world.”

DeSantis said the deal would “strengthen the economic partnership between our state and the United Kingdom”.

Lowe said there was “possibly some future economic upside” in a deal, particularly because of the federal nature of the US.

Florida has a GDP of over £1.1tn – making it the fourth biggest economy of any US state and roughly the size of Spain’s – and US states retain significant regulatory powers.

“Within the US, quite a few regulatory barriers faced by UK firms are addressable at the state level,” he said. But, he added: “They are not the equivalent of a full free trade agreement.”

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