Now we are properly into 2020 let’s go into the detail of the UK-EU trade negotiations for the year head.


First published in January 2020.

Now we are properly into 2020 let’s go into the detail of the UK-EU trade negotiations for the year head.

TL:DR: There are multiple negotiations, and none of them are simple, even the “barebones” FTA...


According to the Political Declaration the first item to be finalised is financial services equivalence – by the end of June 2020.

According to the relevant EU documents, there are 26 areas in which equivalence is judged, and not one country has been deemed equivalent in all of them. Even then equivalence falls a long way short of current levels of access.

Next to be agreed and ratified between the UK and EU, by 1 July 2020, a fisheries agreement. This is probably more politically sensitive on both sides though less economically important than financial services.

What fish and financial services have in common (along with many other areas in UK-EU talks) is the specialist knowledge required to fully understand the range of issues concerned. For fish, for example, see this on the different interests involved:

By the end of 2020, the UK and EU aim to have data equivalence arrangements in place.

This is a major concern across a swathe of services businesses, though manufacturers also have an interest.

According to some experts I have heard, the UK’s existing laws on data, while not a problem inside the EU, will be for equivalence. Here are some of the things we have to guarantee...

Next agreement to put in place between the UK and EU before the end of December 2020, the detailed implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. What checks will be carried out, what tariffs will be paid?

Northern Ireland political parties and business are working together to propose amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on NI-GB trade. They fall without government support, but its a powerful statement, and politically tricky.

So, that’s four agreements to be made before we come to the Free Trade Agreement, barebones or not. There is an interface between the FTA and the others, not least on fish as many have been saying...

Even a simple Free Trade Agreement will have to include level playing field measures covering at least environment, labour, state aid, competition, and quite possibly more as the EU demands.

Even tariff and quota free is not simple. Rules of Origin determine what products qualify, and if they don’t suit UK producers, the zero tariffs are of no use. Example below from CETA:

There is a simpler alternative to negotiating individual product rules of origin, which is pan-Euro-Mediterranean cumulation and the PEM Convention. In simple terms, standard rules of origin across Europe. But the UK as rule takers from Brussels...

If there is to be no extension to the transition period, this FTA has to come into force on 1 January 2021. But with time for ratification and implementation you would probably need agreement by October latest. Even that is challenging for EU procedures.

Such a barebones trade agreement would say nothing about regulatory checks or provision of services beyond WTO and would be a huge change from the current trade situation. So, there could be problems for a port built next to hills – Dover – handling 17% of the UK’s goods trade.

So, five trade agreements with the EU are due to be negotiated in 2020, inter-relating, and that is before we get to security or people, for example. Or trade agreements with other countries including the US, which also relate to the EU talks.

Domestically government and parliament are not yet set up coherently to manage all these negotiations, devolved involvement is unknown, and business have to prepare both for no trade deal and to lobby for their interests in a deal. Much more work there.

The government’s majority means they should be able to pass relevant legislation. Though that is a mixed blessing in negotiating terms since the EU and others can say ‘Then just sign here, we know you can get the deal through Parliament’ (see Withdrawal Agreement...)

Drawing to a conclusion, we face multiple negotiations in 2020, all are complex, and this will need far superior handling to anything we have seen so far from the UK government. Acknowledging this would be a good start.


Tweets posted on 6 January 2020 by @DavidHenigUK.



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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 14 January 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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