THE GOVERNMENT spin machine was in action this week. It stuck to its line that there would be no delay to the end of the Brexit transition period in December.

This is despite little or no progress in teleconference sessions between London and Brussels, partly because there is little political input. There is also the major problem that neither side has any idea what their respective economies will be like come 2021.

Instead the government machine shone its light on the sunny uplands of a trade deal with the United States. The minister responsible for trade, Liz Truss, said the teleconference discussions between London and Washington were 'essential;' but promised to drive a hard bargain. Whether she can deliver is open to question. She is facing a Trump administration determined not to let coronavirus undermine his plans to ride to a second-term election victory in November, on the back of having delivered a strong US economy and jobs market.

Coronavirus has blown a below-the-water-line hole in that plan. Trump faces the inconvenient truth of multi-trillion dollar debt, a shattered economy and record unemployment. The administration's focus is on how quickly this can be reversed and whether the mountain of debt can be swept under the carpet.

It might talk the talk on a trade deal with the UK, because it suits its agenda to separate the UK from the EU, but political interest in walking the walk may not be there. Ironically, on the day Truss announced the start of trade talks, Trump demanded that American pharmaceutical companies bring their operations back to the US. This was on grounds that 'American people should be making products for America'. Countries he cited in his demand that businesses return home included Ireland. These were not the words of an administration interested in open trading.

According to reports, there are 100 officials on each side of this negotiation. It is not clear what they will do at this stage, but this is presumably meant to impress. Truss is a minister with a good political judgement, but not many successes. She was a weak Defra minister in her time, a widely criticised Lord Chancellor and now a trade minister heading a negotiation that will test her as never before.

She has promised not to dilute UK food standards, which is welcome. The EU, whose rules are the basis of our food industry, is the world's most respected when it comes to defining production standards and consumer safety. Our goal should be to maintain those. As Phil Hogan said when he was still farm commissioner, the UK public did not vote Brexit to see food safety standards reduced.

This will be a hard stance to maintain. Truss and her team are dealing with an administration that delights in bullying. It did not bother to send any representation to the online meeting this week where Boris Johnson sought global funds to tackle coronavirus. It believes its food standards are the best in the world and that to say otherwise is 'fake news', in Trump's over-used phrase.

The US will want to put its food into the UK and to undercut the market through scale and lower standards. To think this can be excluded from a trade deal is naïve, since it would mean the US admitting its standards are not acceptable in Europe. This is an argument that can only be won by a willingness to walk away, as the UK has threatened the EU. However Boris Johnson's political capital is pinned on a trade deal with the US.

The UK is using the US trade negotiation to show the EU it has other friends. This ignores the reality that Trump's trade motivations are self-centred.

Truss claimed this week the US is the UK's biggest export market. That may be true as a single country, but the EU is a much bigger market. Exports to the US in 2018 were around £130 billion. Exports to the EU were well over £300 billion. A fully functioning trade deal with the US could add between 0.07 and 0.16% to the UK economy over the five years after a deal.

If it is an either/or option between an EU or US trade deal, the economic gain balance favours Europe. Certainly, so far as agriculture is concerned, a deal with the EU-27 would win hands down, not least because maintaining EU standards is the key to opening other export markets.