The British foreign secretary has sent a warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls that the UK is concerned by their campaign-trail attacks on free trade.
By James Blitz and Philip Stephens in London
David Miliband, who is meeting advisers to the presidential rivals in the US this week, says the UK is troubled by the protectionist stance taken by the candidates, insisting Washington must remain committed to global trade “in a very fundamental way”.
Mr Miliband said he did not want to criticise any of the candidates in the contest, but that the UK would be forthright in arguing against any shift by the US towards protectionism.
Amid signs that the UK is troubled by calls from Barack Obama for measures such as trade tariffs on China, Mr Miliband said: “American internationalism has been a feature of all periods of global progress . . . It’s absolutely clear that the world needs an America that’s engaged with the global trading system in a very fundamental, very committed way . . . The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade. That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently.”
In what appeared to be a reference to mistakes over the US-led invasion of Iraq, he argued that it was “very, very important for the next decade, learning from the last in foreign policy, that we make the right decisions”. But he also argued that Europe must work out how it can be a “good and better partner” to the new president “because no big problems get solved without the United States”.
Mr Miliband emphasised that the UK no longer viewed its relationship with the US as one that automatically relegated the European Union to second place. Tony Blair, former prime minister, characterised the UK as a “bridge” between the US and the EU but Mr Miliband said there was now considerable co-operation between London, Paris and Berlin on transatlantic policy.
“We’ve got institutions in Paris and Berlin that want to work closely with the Americans,” he said. “There’s a transatlantic project that spans other European countries as well . . . We’re always co-ordinating activities.”
A key issue in the US election is whether the new president might seek to develop a “league of democracies” as a means of organising the international system. The idea has been promoted by John McCain, the Republican candidate, and is also being looked at by advisers to Barack Obama.
Mr Miliband said he had an open mind on the subject. “You can see the dangers,” he said. “You don’t want to set up something which undermines the ability of the international system to get to grips with difficult issues. Equally though . . . should people with the same values work effectively together? The answer must be yes.”
But he warned that any such club must be inclusive, welcoming all-comers, rather than allowing existing members to select who is in or out. “It depends how it’s done, that’s why we’re going to talk to them about it.”
On the issue of who would be the new EU president, he seemed lukewarm about Mr Blair: “We, of course, think he would do a very good job but it’s not something we are getting into.”
Instead, his message was that the EU must be prepared for the change in Washington in the new year. “The ‘global Europe’ agenda that says that the European aeroplane needs a second wing – and that this second wing is tackling insecurity and instability beyond its borders rather than just framing markets and social standards within its borders – that agenda has real traction in the European Union. And it must now be driven forward.”