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Tuesday 22 January 2019

EU Parliament votes in favour of EU/UK trade under WTO rules post-Brexit

Mairead McGuinness MEP.
Mairead McGuinness MEP.

The Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament has voted in favour of an agreed EU/UK approach on trade policy post-Brexit as applied via the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mairead McGuinness MEP and First Vice-President of the European Parliament, who led on the file for the EPP Group in the Committee, has confirmed.  

“The EU conducts trade policy on behalf of its Member States, allowing EU countries to take advantage of being part of a much larger bloc when negotiating globally. But after Brexit, the UK will determine its own trade policy.

"This means that the EU and the UK have to separate out the current joint commitments in place via the WTO. These so-called schedules describe measures governing how each WTO member must trade with other WTO members.

"They include Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) which allow certain limited amounts of products - many of them agricultural - to be imported at a lower tariff level," said McGuinness, speaking from Strasbourg on Tuesday.

She said that the EU’s approach, agreed with the UK, is to split these TRQs between the EU-27 and the UK based on previous usage.

“The Agriculture Committee has endorsed the agreed EU-UK approach to the tariff-rate quotas, helping move forward preparations for Brexit. But the Committee also noted that it is important that this technical exercise does not amount to any re-opening of negotiations over market access.

"The current agricultural TRQs were negotiated at the WTO from 1986 to 1994: now is not the time for a wholesale re-negotiation. This is important in order to protect the EU market in certain sensitive agricultural products."

Countries including Argentina, Australia and New Zealand are allowed specific access for sheep and goat meat into the EU at a lower tariff rates. For example, New Zealand's sheep and goat meat quota, the EU and UK have agreed to split the quota 50:50.

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“As a Committee, we voted to maintain the European Parliament’s right of scrutiny over negotiations, with the ability to use a veto over any changes to the TRQs as laid out by the Commission in this file, following negotiations at the WTO.

"This is particularly important as a number of WTO members, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand, the US, and Uruguay, have individually objected to the agreed EU and UK's approach. These countries argue that their current access to the EU-28 market will decrease, as they will lose the flexibility to export either to the UK or to an EU-27 member, depending on factors like price at a particular time," MEP McGuinness said.

"Negotiations at the WTO might result in changes so it is important that the Parliament oversees the result of negotiations.

"The Commission, as the EU’s trade negotiator, will then be in a position to go ahead with negotiations to finalise the TRQs at the WTO and ensure continuity regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations," she added.

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