Battle lines drawn ahead of UK-EU trade talks

Katie Ramirez
February 7, 2020

Given taking back control was a key part of the pro-Brexit campaign, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out any extension of that period, but the European Union says that leaves too little time to seal more than a "bare bones" trade deal.

Despite the British government's repeated assertions that a deal could be agreed quite swiftly, European Union officials have not been too optimistic about the timetable.

The EU and Britain open hostilities in Brexit's next bruising chapter on Monday, laying down red lines for a post-divorce future following the UK's dramatic exit from the bloc.

In a speech in Greenwich on Monday, Boris Johnson laid out his stance on upcoming negotiations with the EU.

John Allan, the president of the Confederation of British Industry, the leading business lobby group, said that the right signals about the UK's future trade relationship would boost firms' confidence to invest.

As Trade Secretary I want the United Kingdom to once again be at the forefront in the campaign for global free trade, fighting the protectionists and mercantilists.

Under an EU-Canada agreement, import tariffs on many goods are eliminated but they still face customs and Value-Added Tax checks.

The European Commission hopes the streamlined rules will avoid further delaying the start of access negotiations when aspiring members have met the conditions for such talks.

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More political clout for member States in adhesion talks for new EU members - in particular Balkan countries - with the possibility of carrying out more effective measures to sanction potential steps backwards by candidates on fundamental reforms, including the suspension of negotiations, are among key points of a reform of the enlargement process presented by EU Commissioner Oliver Varhely.

Brussels says Britain would have to align with the EU on state aid, environment, tax, labour and social policies to protect EU consumers and shield EU businesses from unfair competition.

But the bloc wants a long-term "level playing field" for its members.

A day earlier, the EU's enlargement commissioner, Oliver Varhelyi, proposed giving existing European Union members the power to delay or reverse the process of admitting new nations or to force countries to restart entry talks in some policy areas.

"We are in favor of free trade, but we are not going to be naive".

Mr Johnson confirmed that if a Canada-style agreement was not possible, he would be prepared to walk away without a full trade deal, like Australia's relationship with the EU.

The UK has cited the EU-Canada trade agreement as a model that could be emulated, something that Brussels finds acceptable on the issue of tariffs and quotas, but insufficient on provisions of fair trade.

Mr Johnson said he wanted a "suite of agreements" covering substantially all trade; an agreement on fisheries; cooperation in the area of internal security; and technical agreements covering aviation and civil nuclear cooperation.

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