Tag Archives: EU

‘No Deal’ Brexit Scenario Increasingly Likely: What does this mean for CARIFORUM-UK Trade?

Alicia Nicholls

The countdown is on. With 100 days to go before the United Kingdom’s (UK) scheduled withdrawal from the European Union (EU), and the ratification of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement less likely, both sides have this week announced contingency plans for a ‘No-Deal Brexit’. What do these recent developments mean for CARIFORUM-UK trade, not just at the policy level, but at the firm level as well?

It has been a busy week in Brexit news. After delaying the House of Commons vote on the Draft Withdrawal Agreement which was scheduled for December 11th, UK Prime Minister Theresa May this week announced that the promised vote will be held the week of January 14, 2019. In the interim, Mrs. May will be seeking to obtain additional legal assurances from the EU-27 that the deal’s ‘backstop’ provision would not keep the UK in a customs union with the EU indefinitely.

UK and EU Brexit Contingency Plans Underway

However, in recognition of an increasingly likely ‘no deal’ scenario, the May Government also announced plans to, inter alia, put 3,500 troops on standby, allocate monies from a contingency fund to key government departments, and outlined a post-Brexit immigration plan.

The EU, for its part, has sought to safeguard the interests of its own EU-27 citizens and businesses by implementing a contingency plan comprising 14 legislative measures and targeting key Brexit-vulnerable sectors. Specifically on trade, the EU noted, inter alia, that “all relevant EU legislation on the importation and exportation of goods will apply to goods moving between the EU and the UK”. In a clear signal to the May Government, the EU was quick to point out that its contingency plan is meant to safeguard EU citizens foremost, that the measures do not replicate the benefits of EU membership, and that these will not mitigate all the risks of a ‘no deal Brexit’.

Why is a ‘no deal’ more likely now?

In an article I recently co-authored with Dr. Jan Yves Remy last week, we highlighted at least four scenarios for future UK-EU relations and analysed what each scenario may mean in turn for CARIFORUM-UK relations. Brexit represents the most epochal and seismic shift in UK trade and political policy in recent history. Brexit developments remain quite fluid, but recent developments evince the increasing likelihood of the ‘no deal’ scenario.

EU leaders have repeatedly ruled out a return to the negotiating table. A renegotiated withdrawal agreement, therefore, now appears highly unlikely. Despite calls for a second referendum, including from former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, this option has been fervently dismissed by the May Administration, which remains committed to her slogan of ‘Brexit means Brexit’, although she had been part of the ‘remain’ camp before the referendum.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has tabled a no confidence motion against Prime Minister May which, if successful, could change the current Brexit trajectory. However, despite her current unpopularity, there is no guarantee Mrs. May would be defeated or that her successor would abandon the Brexit plans. As alluring as it sounds, a ‘No Brexit at all’, scenario, therefore, at this stage still appears unlikely.

Possible Implications of ‘no deal’ for CARIFORUM-UK trade

Due to former colonial ties, the UK is currently most CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) countries’ main trading partner within the EU and is also one of the main source markets for tourist arrivals and foreign direct investment to CARIFORUM countries. Given these historic and economic ties, CARIFORUM and the UK are currently in the advance stages of negotiating a roll-over of the concessions under the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement which currently define CARIFORUM-UK trading relations until the UK leaves the EU. While details about the roll-over negotiations have been sparse, this agreement has reportedly taken into account the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. It is in the ‘no deal’ scenario that this roll-over arrangement has its most utility as it at least assures CARIFORUM traders of continued preferential market access to the UK if the latter leaves the EU without a transition deal in place.

However, while the EPA ‘roll-over’ preserves the market access status quo, it does not mitigate all the risks of a ‘no deal Brexit’. Without a transition agreement in place, UK goods (and imported goods entering through UK ports of entry) will immediately after March 29, 2019 no longer have free circulation within the EU single market and will revert to World Trade Organisation Most Favoured Nation (MFN) levels – that is, they will be subject to EU import duties and non-preferential rules of origin. This, therefore, takes away the incentive for CARIFORUM firms which, due to a shared language and customs, would have used the UK as a ‘springboard’ for entering the wider EU market by establishing a commercial presence in the UK.

Moreover, because many CARIFORUM countries’ air and sea links to continental Europe are still mainly through the UK, CARIFORUM firms will have to consider what impact these new ‘no deal’ arrangements (such as reimposed customs duties and customs checks) may have on their trade with both UK and EU partners and on their supply chains. New arrangements for aviation and haulage between the EU and UK will also add delays and increased freighting costs. These higher costs will have to be borne in mind in business planning, pricing and other decisions.

One of the biggest threats of a ‘no deal’ Brexit is the volatility of sterling which has seen large drops in value whenever unfavourable news hits the market. If not already done, currency risks will have to be taken into account by CARIFORUM firms when negotiating commercial terms with UK trading partners and in their own risk assessments.

With regard to tourism, the reduced spending power of UK visitors to the region, or any downturn in the UK economy due to fall-out from a ‘no deal’ Brexit’, would adversely impact those CARIFORUM countries where UK tourists account for a sizable market share or where UK purchasers account for sizable real estate purchases. Changes in UK-EU aviation arrangements may also make the cost of travel to the region more expensive for those continental European travellers which have to transit through the UK to reach the Caribbean (those which do not have the benefit of direct flights). As such, it would be beneficial for CARIFORUM countries to expand their direct air and sea links with continental Europe.

In spite of the above, it is not all doom and gloom. There is the opportunity for CARIFORUM to redefine CARIFORUM-UK trading relations by going beyond the mere EPA roll-over and negotiating a new free trade agreement in the future with the new ‘Global Britain’ the May Administration seeks to advocate. It also gives CARIFORUM countries an additional nudge to expand their trading relations with the EU-27 themselves by making better use of the EPA, which is currently underutilised. This is also an opportune time as CARIFORUM, as part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping, is in the process of renegotiating a post-Cotonou arrangement with the EU.

The takeaway is that the uncertainty continues! With all the news about Brexit, it is not surprising that some firms or persons may experience ‘Brexit fatigue’. It is, however, incumbent on regional firms which currently do business with, or are seeking to conduct business with those in the UK to keep abreast of these developments and to make the necessary contingency plans to ensure minimal disruption to their trading.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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Domestic Squabbles and International Blunders: Will There Be a No-Deal Brexit Scenario?

By Renaldo Weekes, Guest Contributor 

Renaldo Weekes ping pong

Renaldo D. Weekes

The United Kingdom’s (UK) Prime Minister, Theresa May, has had her hands full ever since she took the job and began leading the Brexit negotiations. She has had to suffer through several resignations as various Secretaries and Ministers opposed her Brexit deal. More recently, she has been ensued in a serious battle with the House of Commons and, more specifically, Members of Parliament (MPs) from her own party. With the high tension squabbles that surround the Brexit deal in the UK, European Union (EU) leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain confidence in May and are not willing to change any part of the current deal, much to the Prime Minister’s detriment.

No Confidence Vote

Tensions surrounding the Brexit have culminated when Prime Minister May decided to delay Monday’s Brexit vote until January. Feeling as though they have tolerated enough, her own MPs launched a no-confidence vote against her. She survived that vote and we now continue on the same path as before. Theresa May’s options remain the same, those being: succeeding with her current deal or an amended deal, holding a second referendum, unilaterally reversing Brexit, a no-deal Brexit and a relatively new option of restarting the process that inadvertently arose out of the European Court of Justice’s ruling on Monday, December 10. The no-confidence vote was merely a bump in the road for the most part and Tory MPs cannot challenge her leadership for at least another year.

Funnily enough, if the rebellious MPs won the vote, things would not have been any better. The same options would be open to the new PM and his or her team. The likelihood of each option happening would change, however, and it seems a no-deal Brexit would be even more likely. May’s current deal would be scrapped as MPs have made it clear that they do not like the deal in its current form. Holding a second referendum or reversing Brexit are not likely to happen because the MPs who challenged May are not willing to even open the possibility of slowing down Brexit. There seems to be no intent to revoke their article 50 notification because doing this may be interpreted as retreating from the battle.

Appeasing the Tories

On Thursday, fresh off the heels of her victory against the no-confidence vote, Theresa May headed to Brussels to squeeze more concessions out of the EU. Her elation from winning the vote did not last long as the EU made it clear that it will not be budging. The EU is not being stubborn for the sake of it, however. According to reports, EU leaders are not sure they can trust Prime Minister May anymore. Not because she is being underhanded but rather, she does not know what she is doing. She has offered what has been described as either vague or impossible changes that relate to the backstop on the Irish border.

One of her suggestions was to have a sunset clause on the backstop whether or not a deal is reached. This is rather dangerous because the point of the backstop is to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. If the backstop deal comes to an end with no replacement, the border they were trying to prevent will be realized. Some fear that this will resume conflicts that were put to a halt 20 years ago with the signing of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. The fact that Tories are willing to let this happen because they want to be completely severed from the EU shows their irresponsibility. They have not suggested ways to deal with the backstop, they simply want a Brexit and they want it now. How can May really appease persons who are not suggesting a fix to the main problem? Understandably, she would try to tweak a deal that, in its current state, will not pass the House of Commons but she and the Tories must face facts. If this squabble of theirs continues, there will be a no-deal scenario.

The Wishful Immovable Object and the Ostensibly Unstoppable Force

Prime Minister May has maintained her stubbornness throughout this entire ordeal until the crucial December 11 vote came and she postponed it until January. We finally saw the ostensibly immovable object shake under pressure. This continued on when the no-confidence vote hit and she essentially begged the EU to make more concessions but they rebuffed her. May is still standing, however, and continues to dismiss the idea of a second referendum as folly even though some of her Cabinet members are reportedly flirting with the idea.

Though the Prime Minister wants to maintain the image of being an immovable object, she has been clearly rattled. There is also the impending, ostensibly unstoppable force that is a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal Brexit is not as unstoppable as it may appear. Its status as ‘unstoppable’ depends on how immovable Theresa May wants to be. If May is willing to change her position and, at the very least, holds a second referendum, it is more probable that she prevents the UK’s disastrous crash out of the EU. If she revokes the Article 50 notification, she prevents Brexit almost immediately and can even restart the negotiation process to craft a better deal.

It is sad to see the state of affairs that the UK finds itself in because of the unrealistic and irresponsible demands of some Tory MPs and a Prime Minister who is trying to mollify these MPs but, at the same time, wants to remain unnecessarily obdurate in the face of legitimate concerns about where the country is headed as the March 2019 deadline approaches. Only time will tell if things will change, whether for better or worse.

Renaldo Weekes is a holder of a BSc. (Sociology and Law) who observes international affairs from his humble, small island home. He has keen interest in how countries try to maneuver across the international political and legal stage.

ECJ Brexit Ruling: What are the implications?

Renaldo Weekes ping pong

Renaldo Weekes, Guest Contributor 

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Monday, December 10th, 2018, that a European Union (EU) member state has the ability to unilaterally revoke its notification of intent to leave under Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. This ruling comes at a time when anti-Brexit and pro-Brexit persons alike are showing great opposition to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Anti-Brexit persons, in particular, are feeling vindicated by this ruling because it allows them to double down on their stance and try to force Prime Minister May into submission.

However, the British Government stood its ground despite the ECJ’s ruling, with British Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, arguing that the British people voted to leave the EU in 2016 and it will not reverse that decision. The Government even argued that point in the ECJ case, saying it does not plan to reverse its decision so the question of whether the United Kingdom (UK) can unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notification was merely hypothetical and of no consequence.

May’s Brexit deal in more peril

Can the British Government continue to take its tough stance in light of the ECJ’s ruling and all the controversy that shrouds Brexit? Some may find it admirable that the Government is not willing to waver, even in the face of fierce opposition. At some point, however, it must face facts. Anti-Brexit lawmakers will be less likely to back down. As part of its judgement, the ECJ said that the UK’s decision to revoke their Article 50 notification reflects a sovereign decision. This has essentially put absolute power into the hands of UK Members of Parliament (MPs) to change course as they do not have to yield to the EU. There is no doubt that MPs will exercise that power. To anti-Brexit lawmakers, there are no more excuses that Prime Minister May can use to prevent a second referendum or prevent Brexit. In light of this, lawmakers are more likely to vote down on the deal; though there was no doubt that they would have done otherwise.

Responsibility and accountability

The ECJ ruling also puts ultimate accountability on the Prime Minister and her team. The European Commission and the Council argued in the court case that article 50 could not be interpreted as allowing a member state to unilaterally revoke its notification; the member state would need the EU’s permission to revoke the notification. If this turned out to be true, and the EU refused to allow the UK to change its decision, Government would have been able to argue that the EU is at fault for restricting the UK’s sovereignty. That, however, is not the case now. Should the government refuse to reverse Brexit or, at the very least hold a second referendum, there is no other institution that holds responsibility for any ensuing consequences that should come from what is likely to be a hard or even no deal Brexit.

Abuse of the process

Another possible impact of the ECJ ruling was actually cited by the European Commission and the Council during their argument to the court. They noted that if member states can unilaterally revoke their notification to leave, they may abuse that process in order to retrigger the 2 year negotiation period should the original negotiations not go their way. On the face of it, this argument may not hold much weight as there is already a process through which a member state can request an extension of the negotiating period. However, should the member state not agree to the extension period proposed by the council, it may still seek to retrigger the mandated 2 year negotiating process which forces the council into a position where it must agree to the member state’s desired negotiation period. The member state may also opt to not apply for an extension and immediately retrigger the process.

The effects that the ECJ’s ruling may or may not have on the UK and other member states notwithstanding, we must still wait to see if the British government will budge in any way as the March 2019 deadline approaches against the backdrop of MPs threatening to upend the deal and a shaky Government trying desperately to maintain its power.

Renaldo Weekes is a holder of a BSc. (Sociology and Law) who observes international affairs from his humble, small island home. He has keen interest in how countries try to maneuver across the international political and legal stage.

EU makes initial proposals for WTO modernization

Alicia Nicholls

The European Commission has released a concept paper outlining its initial proposals for making the WTO more relevant and adaptive to current global realities and for strengthening its effectiveness.

The paper originates from a mandate given by the European Council to the European Commission. It was published days after G20 trade and investment ministers called for urgent WTO reform and a month after United States’ President Donald Trump renewed his desire to withdraw the US from the WTO. It also comes against the backdrop of an escalation in unilateralism as Washington readies to impose a further $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods imports.

In the paper, the Commission reiterates the EU’s “staunch” support of the multilateral trading system, noting that the 164-member WTO was “indispensable in ensuring free and fair trade”. It warns, however, that the WTO is under threat. It notes that the organisation’s current marginalisation by some of its key members stem from its failure to “adapt sufficiently to the rapidly changing global economy”.

The 17-page concept paper offers proposals under three key areas and is in effect three papers in one. These areas are: rulemaking and development, regular work and transparency and dispute settlement.

The Commission recommends that the EU continue to the work on the issues under the existing Doha mandate, but also states there is urgent need to broaden the negotiating agenda, building on several initiatives launched at the Buenos Aires Ministerial held in December 2017. Lamenting the current inadequacy of the WTO’s Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM), the Commission calls for improved transparency and subsidy notifications, rules which better capture subsidies granted by state-owned enterprises and stricter rules for the most trade-distortive types of subsidies.

The Commission recommends updating current trade rules on services and investment, and further reduce existing market access barriers and discriminatory treatment of foreign investors. One issue of which the Commission was particularly critical was the need to tighten rules on forced technology transfer – practices by some States which force foreign investors to directly or indirectly share their technological innovations with the State or domestic investors. Indeed, intellectual property rights issues are a major sore point between US and China trade relations.

The Commission also sounds the alarm about the “grave danger” to the WTO’s dispute settlement system posed by the US’ blocking of Appellate Body judge appointments. By end of September, the Appellate Body would have only the minimum (just three judges on its roster) and by December 2019 will have less than the minimum required to hear an appeal as two more retire. As such, the Commission has made some initial proposals for amendments which would take into account many of the US’ concerns with the WTO dispute settlement system which had been outlined in the President’s Trade Policy Agenda for 2018. For example, the Commission has suggested amending the 90-days rule contained in Article 17.5 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding to provide for more transparency and consultation.

The Commission has made clear that the proposals were meant to be a basis for discussion with the EU Parliament, the Council and other WTO members, and did not prejudice the EU’s final positions on the matters.

The concept paper makes for an interesting read and may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Brexit: Provisional Transition Deal Struck between EU and UK

Alicia Nicholls

A provisional agreement has been struck between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom with regard to the terms of the latter’s withdrawal from the EU.

The 129-page provisional withdrawal agreement touches on a wide number of areas from  residence, employment rights and social security systems to public procurement and cooperation in criminal and civil matters. The Agreement provides for a transition period lasting from the date of entry into force of the Agreement until 31 December 2020.

Most of the provisions have been agreed to, with some remaining areas still subject to further negotiation. One of these unresolved areas is the Draft Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

A key concession is that the UK will be able to negotiate trade deals with third States during the transition period.

Some aspects of the provisional deal, however, have received some push back in the UK. A particular sore point is that UK fishing policy will continue to be Brussels-controlled during the transition period, although the agreement provides for the UK to be “consulted”.

More details to come

The text of the provisional agreement may be found here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Brexit Bill Clears First Parliamentary Hurdle

Photo credit: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The Theresa May government may have lost its Supreme Court Appeal last month but today the Government’s Brexit bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdle. After fourteen hours of debate spread over two days, the House of Commons voted 498 to 114 in favour of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, a bill to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify the UK’s intention to withdraw from the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty).

Article 50(1) of the Treaty on European Union provides for any member state to decide to withdraw from the EU in accordance with that state’s own constitutional requirements. Last month, the UK Supreme Court, in dismissing an appeal by the UK government, held that a parliamentary vote was required in order for the Brexit process to begin. It should be noted that many of the parliamentarians who voted in favour of the Bill’s advancement had originally supported staying in the EU. However, many felt compelled to put aside personal views in order to give effect to the will of the 52% of British voters who had voted for Brexit. Mrs. May has reportedly indicated that she will publish a White Paper outlining the Government’s Brexit plans.

So what’s next?

Today’s House of Commons vote (the second reading) means that the Brexit bill is one step closer to becoming law, and will go to the next stage in the parliamentary process – the Committee Stage. During the committee stage, the Bill will be subjected to more enhanced scrutiny and it is here that any amendments may be made.

Upon leaving the Committee stage, the bill (whether or not amended) will again be debated and subjected to a final vote in the House of Commons. If the ayes have it, then it will pass to the House of Lords where the process will be repeated. The bill will be referred back to the House of Commons if the Peers make amendments to the bill.

However, once everything goes smoothly (i.e. there are no further amendments and the peers vote in favour of the bill), the Brexit bill will be sent to the Queen for the royal assent and thereupon will become law. This confers on the May Government the legal authority to make the Article 50 notification which commences the formal withdrawal negotiations with the EU. Mrs. May has indicated the end of March 2017 as her timeline for the notification. She has also promised that she will put the final withdrawal deal to a parliamentary vote.

The full text of the Brexit bill and further reporting on the UK House of Commons’ vote may be found here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

EU-Canada CETA: Seven Things to Know

Alicia Nicholls

After a week more akin to the nail-biting final minutes of a suspense film, the European Union and Canada have finally signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) today Sunday, October 30, 2016. This sets the stage for the agreement to be provisionally applied.

Here are seven quick things to know about CETA:

  1. CETA is the EU’s first completed  free trade agreement with a G-7 country and its most ambitious trade agreement to date -By numbers, it encompasses over 500 million people (500 million in the EU-28 and  35 million in Canada), 29 countries and 24 languages. Prior to CETA’s signature, trade relations between the EU and Canada were guided by the Framework Agreement for Commercial and Economic Cooperation, in force since 1976 as well as a number of sectoral agreements.
  2. Canada was the EU’s 11th largest trading partner in 2015 – This is according to EUROSTAT data as at April 2016 which valued Canada-EU trade in 2015 at 63,479 million euro, accounting for 1.8% of EU trade with non-EU partners. On the flip side, the EU is second only to the United States as Canada’s largest  trading partner. According to Statcan data, Canada exported $39,454.8 million ($CAN) in goods to the EU in 2015 and imported $53.004.5 in the same period.
  3. CETA was several years in the making –  Negotiations between the EU and Canada began in 2009 and the text was concluded in 2014 and received legal approval in February 2016. However,the agreement has had to overcome several hurdles, including the fact that as a “mixed” agreement under EU law, it had to obtain the approval of each of the 28 EU member countries (in accordance with their own constitutional arrangements). There has been popular and political opposition to the Agreement, including the impasse between the Belgium Federal Government and the regional government of Wallonia which had threatened  to be the final nail in the coffin until a last minute internal deal saved the day. Despite the resolution of this political impasse, some popular dissent towards the Agreement remains as evidenced by the anti-CETA protests.
  4.  Almost 99% of tariffs will be eliminated on goods trade between the EU and Canada – The exceptions are a few sensitive agricultural products. However, tariff-eliminations are only a small part of CETA and the Agreement is WTO-plus in many aspects. It includes provisions on trade in services, investment,  sustainable development, labour, environment, inter alia. It also opens up the procurement market in the EU and Canada so businesses in those countries can bid on government contracts in each other’s countries.
  5. CETA provides for a novel Investment Court System – The permanent bilateral investment tribunal provided for in CETA’s Investment Chapter (Chapter 8) is a marked departure from the ad hoc tribunals used in traditional investor-state dispute settlement systems. The tribunal will be comprised of 15 members (five EU nationals, five Canadian nationals and five nationals of third states). In addition to this new ISDS system, the investment chapter provides more explicit language regarding the State’s right to regulate, an appellate tribunal, greater provisions on transparency of proceedings and conflict of interests, as well as commitment by the EU and Canada towards the shared objective of working towards the establishment of a permanent multilateral investment court which will replace the bilateral court under CETA.
  6. CETA is expected to boost income in both the EU and Canada. According to a 2008 joint study by the European Commission and the Government of Canada, conducted prior to the launch of the negotiations, it was found that the annual real income gain  within seven years of CETA’s implementation is to be an estimated  11.6 billion euros for the EU and 8.2 billion euros for Canada. The stated benefits of CETA are job creation, a liberalised procurement market and increased merchandise and services trade and investment flows between Canada and the EU and cheaper goods and services for consumers.
  7. CETA will be the benchmark for future agreements signed by both the EU and Canada with subsequent trade partners.  The standard of ambition in the Agreement is high. CETA is likely to be the last trade agreement signed by the UK as an EU-member before the UK is expected to make its Article 50 notification and BREXIT negotiations begin (slated for March 2017).

The full text of the Agreement may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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