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Trump touts 'very big' trade deal with Britain

[WASHINGTON] US President Donald Trump touted the prospects of a "very big" trade deal with Britain on Tuesday as the minister tasked with clinching accords for the post-Brexit era met officials in Washington.

"Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS!" Mr Trump tweeted.

"The EU is very protectionist with the US STOP!" he added, repeating a common line of attack against trading partners for what he says are unfair policies that hurt US businesses.

The latest Twitter swipe came as US and British officials met for the second day of the inaugural round of talks aimed at boosting trade relations between the two countries after Britain exits the European Union.

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US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his British counterpart Liam Fox are leading the US-UK Trade and Investment Working Group.

It will be "a key mechanism to deepen our already strong bilateral trade and investment relationship, and to lay the groundwork for our future trade relationship once the UK has left the EU," Mr Lighthizer said in a statement Monday.

"I look forward to building on our already strong economic relationship and furthering our mutual goal of achieving free and fair trade and investment to create good-paying jobs on both sides of the Atlantic."

Mr Fox said it will be important to give businesses in both countries continuity while Britain negotiates its status with the EU and after Brexit.

"This will be our forum to strengthen the bilateral trade and investment relationship and deepen the already extensive economic ties between the UK and US," Mr Fox said.

Trade between the two countries is already worth about US$230 billion a year, and together there is around US$1 trillion invested in each other's economies, according to USTR.

However, British foreign minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday that New Zealand could expect to be one of the first nations to ink a trade deal with London post-Brexit.

Tweets vs policy

Mr Fox, in Washington for a two-day visit, said the United States is Britain's largest export market - bigger than France and Germany combined - and the number one destination for British investment.

He stressed that even though Britain is leaving the EU, London is committed to an open, rules-based trading system.

"The principles of free and open trade have underpinned the multilateral institutions, rules and alliances that helped rebuild post-war Europe and the world beyond," he said in a speech Monday.

Opening of global trade "facilitated 70 years of global prosperity, and they have raised the living standards of hundreds of millions of people across the world," he said.

That sentiment was in contrast to many of Mr Trump's statements blasting free trade agreements as unfair to the United States.

Mr Trump has slammed Germany for the United States' "MASSIVE trade deficit" and picked fights with Mexico and Canada, partners in the North American Trade Agreement which he initially threatened to abandon.

But his economic team, including commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, have been more pragmatic, focusing on improving rather than scrapping trade deals.

In a speech Tuesday, Mr Ross said there is nothing incompatible about free trade and tough enforcement of trade rules.

"I think there are fair reasons for imports and bad reasons. The fair reasons are ones like we're not self-sufficient in energy," Mr Ross said.

"What's not reasonable in the import side is subsidised product. Free trade didn't contemplate products coming in illegitimately."

He also has said previously that Washington is "open" to resuming talks with the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Launched in 2013, negotiations on the TTIP - which would set up a huge free trade area on both sides of the Atlantic - screeched to a halt when Mr Trump was elected.