A Threat to a UK-EU Trade Deal?

A Threat to a UK-EU Trade Deal?

Throughout Brexit discussions so far, a key talking point has been a free trade agreement between the UK and the EU that will take effect post-Brexit. Negotiations on any trade deal are yet to start in earnest due to the political stalemate that has engulfed Brexit proceedings so far. Once negotiations do begin though, they may come under threat not from politicians or business leaders, but from a trade deal with America.

A leaked government document has shown that civils servants within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) believe a UK-US trade deal would include access to the UK for American agri-food products which do not currently meet the EU’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS). For this to happen, the UK government would have to loosen the strict standards currently set under its membership of the EU.

Any decision to relax these standards would not be without consequence though and would undoubtedly influence a free trade agreement with the EU. Throughout negotiations so far, the EU has been defiant in ensuring the need for continued regulatory alignment to protect the integrity of their single market. Ensuring that the UK is compliant with the EU’s SPS regime is one of the key reasons behind a potential hard border in Ireland.

The leaked document states that the decision to accommodate a single trading partner could ‘irreparably damage our ability to maintain UK animal, plant and public health, and reduce trust in our exports’. It also says that DEFRA is expected to come under significant pressure from the Department of International Trade to relax standards in order to get a trade deal with the US over the line.

The decision to ease the SPS regime could become more complex too. SPS policy is a devolved matter for both the Scottish and Welsh governments and if they retained the EU standards, it could make it much more difficult to make future trade deals.

There is a clear disparity within the UK government on whether to prioritise a trade deal with the US or to protect the high SPS standards that are currently in place, and subsequently a trade deal with the EU. Considering how strongly the EU have protected the single market throughout Brexit negotiations so far, it is unlikely that they would be react well to non-compliant products potentially circulating within it.  

With Brexit negotiations proving intricate and difficult so far, choosing to opt against the EU would add another barrier to reaching an agreement, and therefore, is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

Robert McConnell, Pinnacle Professional