U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Thursday the Atlantic Declaration, a narrow economic partnership focusing on energy transition and emerging technologies considered critical to national security.
The deal will help the U.S. and U.K. “remain at the cutting edge of a rapidly changing world,” Biden said.
However, the two sidestepped questions about progress toward a broader U.S.-U.K. free-trade agreement that the British Conservative Party promised in 2019 to negotiate within three years of governing.
Thursday’s announcement, covering technologies such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence, followed talks at the White House addressing economic ties and support for Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion.
Pillars of the Atlantic Declaration include ensuring U.S.-U.K. leadership in critical and emerging technologies, economic security, digital transformation and clean energy transition.
According to the White House, the agreement will deepen trade and investment ties, diversify supply chains and reduce strategic dependencies on adversarial powers.
China and Russia are “willing to manipulate and exploit our openness, steal our intellectual property, use technology for authoritarian ends or withdraw crucial resources like energy,” Sunak said during a joint press conference following his talks with Biden.
A comprehensive free-trade agreement was once promised in the U.K. as a post-Brexit goal. However, with little appetite for new free-trade agreements in the U.S. Congress, there’s “real pragmatism” from the British side, said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and the Americas program at Chatham House, a London think tank.
She told VOA that Britain is going for selected wins that don’t have to go through Capitol Hill to get traction and can move forward on leading-edge technology issues, especially AI.
AI, which Biden said presents a staggering potential for technological changes, is a key area of concern as both capitals work toward formulating regulations that address key risks without constricting innovation.
“They’re looking at each other’s models to see how they can do that better,” said Joshua Meltzer, a senior fellow on global economy and development at the Brookings Institution.
Biden and Sunak are aware that rival China, also a top AI player, has an advantage in that it can ignore privacy issues such as using AI for surveillance and facial recognition, and it “really wants to put its foot on the innovation accelerator,” Meltzer told VOA.
Regulations that balance values and innovation will ensure that the U.S. and the UK. remain leaders in AI, he said, and determine “where China is going to end up as well.”
As part of the deal, the two countries will begin talks on U.K.-produced critical minerals used in electric vehicles and batteries that would be eligible for U.S. tax credits. Similar negotiations are ongoing with the European Union, modeled after a deal signed with Japan allowing certain critical raw materials for electric vehicles to be treated as if they were sourced in the U.S.
Ukraine and NATO
Biden underscored transatlantic unity, saying: “There’s no issue of global importance, none, that our nations are not leading together.”
He downplayed growing Republican skepticism about increasing defense spending for Kyiv.
“I believe we’ll have the funding to support Ukraine as long as it takes,” the president said.
He declined to say whether Kyiv has initiated its long-anticipated counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces in southeast Ukraine, as some media outlets have reported.
Thursday’s meeting brought together the leaders of the top two military donors to Ukraine, sending a signal ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, next month that the allies are committed and unified behind Kyiv.
U.S -U.K. alignment on Ukraine has become even more synergized under the new prime minister, said Andrew Hyde, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center.
“The U.K. feels under Sunak it could go further, in terms of supplying weapons and support for Ukraine in ways that the U.S. as the leader of the alliance really can’t,” he told VOA, noting Britain’s push to supply Kyiv with tanks, long-range missiles and F-16 fighter jets.
“They’ve cleared the ground a little bit for Western assistance, giving the U.S. a degree of distance, plausible deniability,” he said, “eventually opening up the field for more allies to supply at that level of quality of weapons.”
Biden declined to respond to a question on whether he would support Ben Wallace, the British defense minister, whom Sunak is pushing to be the next NATO secretary-general.
“That remains to be seen,” he said. “We’re going to have to get a consensus within NATO.”
Biden is meeting with outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday.
Biden and Sunak’s meeting happened on the heels of an attack on the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine. Neither Washington nor London has officially accused Russia of blowing up the hydroelectric dam. But Sunak said, “If it does prove to be intentional, it will represent a new low … an appalling barbarism on Russia’s part.”
Before meeting with Biden, Sunak held talks with congressional leaders and took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. He appeared Wednesday evening at the Washington Nationals baseball game, where the team was honoring U.S.-U.K. Friendship Day.
It’s the British prime minister’s first visit to the United States since taking office in October, but he and Biden have already met three times this year. During the two-day trip, Sunak stayed at Blair House, the president’s official guesthouse, near the White House.
Anita Powell and Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.