Friday, February 28, 2020

As the Brexit Negotiators Wait for the Opening Round Who Will be Left Standing at the Final Bell?

Britain vs the EU Looks Like Being an Acrimonious Battle to the End
Shipping News Feature

UK – EUROPE – The tactics used by both sides in the lead up to the negotiations designed to smooth the path of Britain's exit from the EU are beginning to look more and more like the approach best suited to a world heavyweight boxing championship fight.

Both sides seem set on commencing talks in a similar vein to the acrimonious attitudes taken before the UK finally moved toward exit after the result of the last general election installed a new government. From the European side demands include the right to access British fishing grounds, always a key point with their opposite numbers, as a return to British sovereignty with regard to these is considered sacrosanct by many.

A clause recently added to the EU negotiators aspirations says Britain must preserve ‘health and product sanitary quality in the food and agriculture sector’, seen by most as an attempt to scupper any US or other overseas trade deals. Another statement says state aid, taxation, environmental and workers’ rights must all align with European standards, another point Britain says it is simply not willing to negotiate on.

At the heart of all this nonsense is trade. The EU is positioning itself to launch tariffs on British products if it doesn’t get its way. Britain however is taking the line that the genie is out of the bottle, whatever the EU does can be reciprocal, and collectively the EU countries export substantially more to the UK than vice versa, although the damage done to individual states might not equate to the British pain if such tactics are introduced.

British proposals for the much vaunted Canada++ or Japanese or South Korean deals were dismissed by EU negotiators recently on the fairly insubstantial grounds that ‘Britain is not Canada’ and going on to state that a deal with an ex member isn’t like attracting new business from a third unattached country. The British view of this is cynical, with public and negotiators alike seeing it as a threat of punishment to any other EU nations considering such a divorce.

So, with both sides seemingly steeped in intransigence will we see sweaty cuddles at the end of the fight after the verdict is announced? Or will it be an acrimonious divorce in which the kids get split down the middle and the no-deal looms up to see World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms imposed in December?

It seems this fear is pervading the supply chain sector with a statement from the Freight Transport association (FTA) today repeating the importance of avoiding this last mentioned situation, and going all out to ensure the continuance of free trade at the end of the negotiations. Elizabeth de Jong, Policy Director at FTA saying:

“The announcement of the government’s negotiating mandate with the EU is missing elements relating to the logistics sector, the businesses charged with keeping Britain trading. Over recent months, FTA has made repeated requests of the UK government to prioritise the needs of logistics in its negotiations around the future trading relationship with the EU or risk a devastating effect on the UK’s highly interconnected supply chain. [We have] also warned of knock-on effects on UK PLC’s future productivity, and on the economy as a whole but these concerns seem to have been overlooked.

“Elements of the government’s approach do give us hope, for instance the commitment towards no tariffs and quotas and some degree of trade facilitation to help industry now that frictionless trade is no longer a political objective. FTA will continue to engage with Government to ensure that maximum use is made of these facilitations, both through the negotiations and at UK level. However, we would like to see more ambition for road, aviation and rail transport, to allow operators on both sides to continue serving UK-EU trade routes in a flexible way and to maintain levels of service for the sector’s customers in business and industry.”