Despite the challenges of EU-UK trade, the British trade policy machinery keeps on churning…
UK-Canada FTA upgrade negotiations set to commence in Q1 2022
Negotiations for a upgraded free trade agreement with Canada are to get under before the end of the first quarter of 2022, the Ottawa government has confirmed.
“The Government of Canada intends to commence negotiations by holding a first round of negotiations with the United Kingdom no earlier than 90 days from the date of this notice,” said a Canadian government statement issued last Friday (10 December).
The talks will be aimed at upgrading and replacing the current UK-Canada FTA, which is essentially a copy of the EU-Canada trade deal, albeit with some amendments.
As well as creating a revised framework for bilateral trade relations, the new FTA will form part of the process of positioning the UK to accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership, of which Canada is a member.
Test of UK’s commitment to open trade
Among other things, the talks will be an early test of whether the UK’s commitment to agri-food trade liberalisation, as demonstrated by this year’s offers of full duty-free market access for Australia and New Zealand, is to be generalised for all CPTPP members.
For its part, Canada will come under pressure to offer new tariff rate quotas to the UK for access to its heavily protected cheese market – to replace the ones lost by the UK in the process of rolling over the CETA deal.
Confirmation of plans to start FTA negotiations early next year came at a meeting on Wednesday (16 December) between UK international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and her Canadian counterpart, Mary Ng.
“These negotiations will be an opportunity to continue to expand and strengthen trade ties with the United Kingdom, Canada’s third-largest partner country for trade in goods and services,” Ng said in a statement after the meeting.
Talks will also commence in the early part of next year with a view to a similar upgrade of the rollover UK-Mexico FTA.
Talks on Northern Ireland Protocol set to drag on into 2022
Negotiations between the UK and the EU on ways to improve the functioning of the Northern Ireland protocol ‘will not be definitively completed by 1 January’, the UK’s chief negotiator Lord David Frost stated on Wednesday (15 December).
The admission, made in a written statement to parliament, gives official confirmation to what had become increasingly clear over the past few weeks.
Neither the EU nor the UK side has made any significant breakthroughs in talks to reconcile conflicting views on how to streamline movements of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Frost will meet his EU opposite number, Commission vice-president Maroŝ Šefčovič, for one final pre-Christmas meeting on Friday (17 December) – but hopes are not high for any kind of consensus.
Hopes not high for swift deal on medicines or European Court of Justice
“We have made further limited progress on medicines, but we have not reached agreement,” Frost tweeted following his last meeting with Šefčovič on 10 December.
He was referring to plans to allow UK-regulated medicines to move freely into Northern Ireland despite the latter territory forming part of the EU single market.
Šefčovič has identified resolution of the medicines issues as being a priority area for the EU – but it remains unclear how this problem will be resolved.
Meanwhile, a UK source was quoted last weekend as saying that the UK was planning to soften its opposition to the idea that the EU Court of Justice should remain the final arbiter of law as applied under the protocol – but this has since been denied by Frost.
There is no firm end-of-year deadline, as the UK has in any case unilaterally extended all of the grace periods for introducing more onerous checks in GB-NI goods movements for an indefinite period, pending the conclusion of talks with the EU.
Imports from Ireland to be temporarily exempted from new UK customs controls
Frost’s statement to the House of Lords also included news that the UK would exempt imports from Ireland from the first stage of application of UK customs controls on EU imports on 1 January.
“The Government has decided that the right thing is to extend, on a temporary basis, the current arrangements for moving goods from the island of Ireland to Great Britain for as long as discussions on the Protocol are ongoing,” Frost said in his statement.
“This means that goods moving from the island of Ireland directly to Great Britain will continue to do so on the basis of the arrangements that apply currently, until further notice; and will not, for now, be affected by the changes being introduced on 1 January for all other inbound goods.”
French MEP to co-chair UK-EU Parliamentary Assembly… UK still has not nominated its envoy
Nearly 12 months after the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement was concluded, the European Parliament finally has its team in place to represent the EU on the new EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.
But the identity of the members of the UK delegation looks set to remain a mystery until after the New Year.
Late last week the European Parliament’s 35-strong delegation elected Nathalie Loiseau as chair of the Parliament’s new standing delegation to the Assembly for the remainder of the current parliamentary term (i.e. until May 2024).
Loiseau is a member of the Parliament’s Renew Europe group, and of President Macron’s En Marche party in France.
Irishman Seán Kelly, and the Bulgarian MEP Tsvetelina Penkova, were elected first and second vice-chair respectively.
But as of Thursday (17 December), embattled UK prime minister Boris Johnson had not taken the necessary step of nominating the 35 members of the delegation in a written ministerial statement to Parliament.
With Parliament in recess, these names now seem unlikely to be announced until the New Year.
London rejects disputed Kiwi trademark application for ‘manuka’ honey
New Zealand’s scepticism over the concept of geographical indications as a way of protecting traditional food names is well-known – indeed, it has been one of the key complicating factors in the ongoing FTA negotiations between New Zealand and the EU.
Which is why there is something very slightly ironic about the angry reaction in Wellington to a decision this week by the UK Intellectual Property Office to deny a trademark to ‘Manuka’ honey – viewed in New Zealand as a speciality of that country.
The IPO said that although “manuka” was a Māori word, it had entered the English language as a descriptive word, and one which did not carry with it a close association with New Zealand.
The main beneficiary of the ruling is Australia, which also produces ‘Manuka’ honey – much to the annoyance of New Zealand – and had directly opposed New Zealand’s application to the IPO.
There is further irony in the fact that removal of the UK’s 16% tariff on honey imports was touted by London as being one of the great benefits to New Zealand of the agreement in principle struck between Wellington and London in October.
New Zealand has no domestic geographical indications regime as yet, although it is preparing to introduce one as a direct result of the EU-NZ FTA.
Producers of Manuka honey in New Zealand are at liberty to apply for GI protection within the UK – although again they may find any such application being opposed by their Australian competitors.