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An ambitious and fair partnership?

Mar 02, 2020
With talks 'officially' starting on 2 March, the EU and the UK need to attempt to reach an agreement on a deal before June. However, it looks like it could be a long road ahead.

WORDS BY AKRITI GUPTA

On 25 February 2020, the European Union’s (EU) General Affairs Council formally adopted the decision to authorise the opening of the future partnership negotiations between the EU and the UK. The forging of this partnership stems from the initial negotiations under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, where an overall understanding on the framework for the envisaged partnership was identified by the EU and the United Kingdom (UK). With the talks ‘officially’ starting on 2 March 2020, the EU and UK will now attempt to replace more than forty years of closely aligned political and economic relations. The negotiations will be conducted in a way that ensures parallelism among the various sectoral tracks of the negotiation.

In the interest of safeguarding rights for both blocs, the approved directives fully respect existing European Council guidelines and conclusions, as well as the previously agreed Political Declaration between the two entities. As they're key commercial elements, the directives will focus on areas of state aid, competition, state-owned enterprises, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change, relevant tax matters and other regulatory measures and practices. 
Stating its own position, the UK has also published its counterpart of the negotiating directives, where the approach mainly lays out the suite of proposals with the EU. The central tenet of this approach is the widely discussed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) where the UK wishes to secure an arrangement which has the hope of ‘zero tariffs, zero quotas’ at the core of it. This proposal draws on previously forged EU agreements such as the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, the EU/Japan Economic Partnership Agreement and the EU/South Korea Free Trade Agreement. 

However, with the UK actively pursuing the right to rewrite its own rules, it is asserting the right to diverge from European rules governing a host of commercial concerns – from fishing access and financial regulations to health and safety, labour and environmental standards. 

Addressing the House of Commons in February, Michael Gove, Minister for the Cabinet Office, stressed the UK’s decision to see the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020: "We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in pursuit of a deal we will not trade away our sovereignty." Additionally, the UK has vocalised a demand for what it calls a "standard" free trade agreement – essentially, a “no-deal” Brexit if “good progress” hasn’t been made on trade talks by June 2020. 

With the idea of a no-deal Brexit being a major source of worry among the general public, the statement above basically envisages the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal, and, in turn, inviting extensive disruption across all aspects of trade, both in goods and services, the avoidance of which has been at the core of three long years of negotiations all along. 

As all eyes fall on the two blocs for further confirmation, the UK and EU have a long road ahead to forge an ambitious and fair partnership over four more months, it seems.