The hope here is that Britain can “copy and paste” them, but it may not be that simpleby Beth Oppenheim / November 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
For the past 44 years, the UK has relied upon the European Union, formerly the European Economic Community, to negotiate trade deals. As an EU member, Britain cannot strike its own trade deals, but the bloc has successfully secured 36 trade agreements for its member-states, spanning more than 60 countries. It is unclear whether Britain can continue to participate in these deals once it leaves the EU.
Last week, former trade minister Mark Price tweeted that all of these non-EU countries “have agreed to roll over” their EU agreements with the UK. When trade secretary Liam Fox was questioned about this comment in a select committee hearing on 1st November, he conceded that “it is not quite as simple as rolling them over,” and admitted the government has no binding agreement on any of the deals. He did say that all countries have expressed their intention to “continue where we are.” But might negotiations be more difficult than Fox suggests?
In 2015, countries with EU trade agreements accounted for over 15 per cent of all British imports and exports. Without the deals, the UK would be thrust onto World Trade Organisation terms with these countries. Britain’s exporters would face costly tariff increases and in some cases more stringent customs checks, with average tariffs levied from between 5 per cent (Israel) to almost 30 per cent (Egypt). The UK would also have to impose tariffs, raising consumer prices. Britain would lose deeper access to services, as it would no longer participate in the 14 services agreements struck by the EU, including the trade agreement concluded with South Korea.
The need for a resolution is urgent, but Fox is constrained—the UK cannot conclude binding agreements until it has left the EU, since it is still bound by the EU’s exclusive right to strike trade deals. On March 29th 2019 the UK will cease to be a member state, so the wording in most free trade agreements will no longer apply to Britain. The government has asked for an “implementation period” with continued membership of the single market and customs union after the Brexit date, to provide time to negotiate a trade agreement with the EU. During the transition period, the UK might try to get the EU and its trade partners to add a few words to the text of their trade agreements, to make clear they…