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May: 'UK at forefront of forging new trade deals'

Arthur Sullivan
January 25, 2018

The UK Prime Minister was in the luxurious ski resort of Davos on Thursday, where her speech focused on free trade and the need for tech giants to take more social responsibility. She also met US President Donald Trump.

Theresa May
Image: Reuters/D. Balibouse

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said her country was "at the forefront of forging new bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements," whilst also seeking to bring new partners to the table in a changing world.

She urged the World Trade Organization (WTO) to step up its efforts to remove existing trade barriers, particularly in the field of e-commerce.

May also called upon the world's financial investors to put pressure on tech companies whose platforms host extremist or illegal material.

She said the UK would strive to be at the forefront of making sure that everyone "has the opportunity to realize the benefits of tech — whether that's a better job, better healthcare or better education."

May urged that more pressure is put on tech giants controlling social media platforms, such as Facebook and Google, to deal with material related to terrorism, extremism or child abuse.

Not paranoid about androids

"Technology companies still need to go further in stepping up to their responsibilities for dealing with harmful and illegal online activity," she stressed. 

Read more: Are we learning to love robots or should we still fear the AI revolution?

EU cracks down on US tech giants

May's speech also dealt with the topic of artificial intelligence (AI). The prime minister emphasized the UK's hopes of becoming a world leader in the emerging technology, while also attempting to assuage doubts over risks associated with AI.

"For right across the long sweep of history from the invention of electricity to advent of factory production, time and again initially disquieting innovations have delivered previously unthinkable advances and we have found the way to make those changes work for all our people," May said in her speech.

Meeting Trump on neutral ground

May's presence in Davos comes amid the ongoing Brexit negotiations between her government and the EU. However, her speech largely steered clearly of that potentially thorny subject.

She did however meet with US President Donald Trump at a bilateral session on Thursday afternoon, their first meeting since they clashed in November over Trump's retweets of videos from a far-right British group.

Trump tried to dispel the perception that he and May didn't get along. The US president said he and the prime minister had a "really great relationship, although some people don't necessarily believe that." He said it was "a false rumor" and that he wanted to "correct it."

"I have great respect for everything you are doing, we love your country, I think it's really great," said Trump, who lavished praise on May throughout the meeting.

May hailed the "really special relationship" between the US and the UK, echoing Trump's sentiments that the two countries would continue to develop their trading relationship.

"Working for a good trade relationship for the future which will be for both our benefits, so the UK and the US both do well out of this — and it's been great to see you today," she said.

The meeting comes two weeks after Trump canceled an official February visit to the UK, where it was expected he would open the new US embassy in London.

Trump claimed his decision was due to the fact that he was unhappy with the nature of the deal to sell the existing American embassy. He blamed former US President Barack Obama for the sale, although the deal to sell the existing embassy was signed off by George W. Bush in October 2008, before Obama won the 2008 election.

Opponents of Trump, such as London mayor Sadiq Khan, claimed the cancellation was based on Trump's fears over mass protests, rather than anything to do with the embassy deal.

"His visit next month would without doubt have been met by mass peaceful protests," said Khan. "This just reinforces what a mistake it was for Theresa May to rush and extend an invitation of a state visit in the first place."