EU and UK braced for Brexit agri-quotas row with WTO partners
The EU and UK are heading for a Brexit showdown with their main agricultural trading partners.
A group of countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO), including the US, Australia, Argentina and Canada, have come out against the EU's proposed carve-up of agricultural quotas post-Brexit.
The row is brewing as a Brexit deal inches closer, with negotiators weighing a 'backstop' plan for the Irish border that would bind the UK to EU customs rules until a new trade deal is in place.
The UK would be granted some scope to set its own rules on tariffs and trade, which it would not enjoy in a fully fledged customs union with the EU.
But Northern Ireland would have to remain bound to some EU standards (on food and goods) in order to avoid creating a border with Ireland.
Product inspections would be carried out in ports, at sea or in factories to avoid the need for border checkpoints.
EU officials and diplomats are more positive about a deal, though they were quick to dismiss speculation by Brexit secretary Dominic Raab that a deal can be done by November 21.
"We're worried the conditions are not there in the UK for them to handle their process," one EU diplomat said.
"The politics are so complicated, we may end up having too little time."
A compromise hinges on language in the final EU-UK exit treaty that gives the UK a get-out clause from the backstop, and reassures Brexiteers - especially the Democratic Unionist Party - that it will not split Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
It also needs to pass muster with both sides' obligations at the WTO.
A variant of the backstop plan has been on the table for a number of weeks, but was rejected by UK negotiators.
Details on the EU-UK part of the backstop will be worked out during a 21-month transition period (to the end of 2020), which UK prime minister Theresa May (pictured) has agreed could be extended.
Those talks would take place alongside negotiations on a wider EU-UK trade agreement, an outline of which is being drawn up, to be published alongside the exit treaty.
That document will be key to selling the backstop, which both sides still hope will never need to be used.
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