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Chair concerned at lack of progress on roll-over of EU trade agreements

21 May 2019

The Chair of the International Trade Committee, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, has written to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox expressing concern at the lack of progress on ‘rolling over' EU free trade agreements (FTAs). His letter comes ahead of a special Committee session on EU trade policy, on the eve of this week's European Parliament elections.

Concern at Government's lack of progress on ‘roll-over' of EU trade agreements

The UK is currently party to 40 or so FTAs that the EU has with some 70 countries, accounting for over 14% of UK trade. If these agreements are not ‘rolled over' by the time the UK leaves, and Brexit occurs on a ‘no deal' basis, the UK will immediately lose the benefits that these agreements provide. The Committee has continued to closely monitor the Government's progress on ‘rolling over' these agreements since its report on the subject, published in March 2018.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for International Trade, the Committee Chair asks how the Department's approach to roll-over has changed due to the Brexit delay. The letter also specifically requests an update on where negotiations stand with Japan, Canada, Turkey, South Korea, Singapore, and the Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique – which together account for 8% of UK trade.

Chair's comments

Commenting on the letter, the Chair of the Committee, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, said:

“Last month, Donald Tusk implored the UK Government not to waste the additional time granted by the European Council agreeing to delay Brexit. Unfortunately, his plea appears to have fallen upon deaf ears, not just in the Cabinet but at the Department for International Trade.

“In the past month, DIT has announced just one roll-over agreement, covering three small countries accounting for just 0.2% of UK trade. Regarding the deals with some of our bigger trading partners – Turkey, Japan and Canada – there has been radio silence. Just as worryingly, in respect of those agreements that have been rolled over, questions remain as to exactly what has been agreed: do these agreements actually replicate our current trading arrangements with these countries, or will our terms of trade be changing?

“The UK has rolled-over, by my latest calculations, 11 agreements out of approximately 40. Given that we are two months after the original deadline, this is of deep concern. Unless Dr Fox's Department rapidly picks up pace, we could be facing a desperate – and quite possibly unsuccessful – hurry to ensure continuity of these agreements in time for the new Brexit date of 31 October.”

EU trade policy

On Wednesday May 22, the eve of the European Parliament elections, the Committee will convene a one-off session examining the EU's approach to trade policy – focusing specifically on the EU's trade strategy and its current negotiations with countries such as the Australia and New Zealand.

The Committee will also examine issues of particular controversy, such as concerns that arose during the now abandoned negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, and how the EU pursues a trade policy that facilitates sustainable development. With a new European Parliament, Commission and Council President all set to be appointed, the session will provide a timely look at recent developments ahead of the elections on Thursday.

The Committee will first hear an overview of EU trade strategy from policy experts, followed by a panel of witnesses representing business, labour, consumer and agricultural interests.

Witnesses

Wednesday May 22, Wilson Room, Portcullis House

At 10.00am

  • Roderick Abbott, Senior Adviser on Trade Policy, European Centre for International Political Economy
  • Iana Dreyer, Founder and Editor, Borderlex news service
  • Professor Elaine Fahey, Professor of Law, City, University of London

At 11.00am

  • Luisa Santos, Director for International Relations, BusinessEurope
  • Rosa Crawford, Policy Officer, European Union and International Relations Department, TUC
  • Léa Auffret, Trade Team Leader, BEUC – The European Consumer Organisation
  • François Guerin, Senior Policy Adviser, European Farmers/European Agri-Cooperatives

Further information

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