The United States and Britain on Monday opened the first day of talks in the US port city of Baltimore aimed at deepening the economic relationship between the two major trading partners and allies.

Speaking at the two-day meeting held about an hour north of the American capital, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the talks were aimed at "concrete steps to advance the US-UK trade relationship."

"I am optimistic and excited about what lies ahead and how we can support the continued evolution of the US-UK trade relationship for the 21st century," she added.

Washington is London's biggest trading partner, and the countries are particularly interconnected when it comes to services trade and direct foreign investment. Britain has sought a free trade pact with the United States since exiting the European Union.

The countries have made progress in removing points of friction, including ending a long-running conflict over subsidies to plane makers Boeing and Airbus.

In January, the governments announced negotiations to end a dispute over steel and aluminum tariffs, the spat that arose after former US president Donald Trump in 2018 imposed tariffs of an additional 25 percent for steel and 10 percent for aluminum on several countries, including longtime allies like Britain.

Britain's International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan on Monday said, "we're making really good progress on" negotiations over the tariffs, which will "clear the way for us to be able to focus on the next steps of our overall UK-US relationship."

However, a senior US administration official said the substance of the metals dispute will not be discussed directly in Baltimore, since it falls under the Commerce Department's jurisdiction.

British Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai are seen together in London in October 2021
British Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai are seen together in London in October 2021 POOL via AFP / HENRY NICHOLLS

Tai and Trevelyan said they will address a series of challenges, such as sorting out bottlenecks in global supply chains, lowering carbon use, promoting digital trade and supporting labor rights, a favorite issue of current US President Joe Biden.

"We want to seek to forge even closer bonds of trade and investment between us, because we do more business together than any other two countries in the world," Trevelyan said, noting the countries' "deep ties running through every level of society, culture, defense, intelligence and the economy."

The United States and United Kingdom do some $263 billion (200 billion pounds) worth of trade every year.

"One-and-a-half million Brits wake up and work in American firms every day, and over a million Americans work in British firms," Trevelyan said.

The discussions are not expected to result in a major bilateral trade agreement, but another round of meetings is due to be held later this spring in Britain.

Asked whether this week's meeting marked a revival of negotiations that were interrupted last year, US officials insisted these talks are more about "deciding where to go together," but said they are confident the conversations would be productive.

"The purpose of this dialogue is to work together to make our trade smarter, and to help our workers and businesses compete in a really tough global economy," a US trade official told reporters ahead of the meeting.

The talks come as the war in Ukraine continues to rage more than three weeks after the country was invaded by Russia, but the meeting in Baltimore is not expected to lead to any announcements of new sanctions against Moscow, the American officials said.

The discussions will, however, "be broadly based on the many ways in which we can pursue our shared interests vis a vis Russia, visa a vis China," they said.