Interim agreement?The myth of a 10-year grace period, Brexit and trade talks with the EU

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was wrong about this but he’s never corrected his mistake, and the myth persists. What is the claim and why is it wrong?

— December 27, 2018

Zoll-duane (customs) barrierA real beginners’ guide to tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) and the WTO

The first beginners’ guide was supposed to be for a “six-year-old” to understand. Sadly tariff quotas are more complicated, so perhaps you have to be seven-and-a-half for this one. And that’s just at the beginning. Start here …

— September 9, 2018

What’s really happening on tariff quotas and Britain’s WTO commitments?

A weir acts like a tariff quota. Water flows over high and low barriers, but more easily through the low oneJust as tariff quotas are complex and misunderstood, the same applies to the news that pops up from time to time of what’s happening to the UK’s quotas in its post-Brexit WTO commitments.

• So what’s really happening?
• And what comments have been received from organisations and other countries?

— September 12, 2018

Some primers on the WTO, and its implications for the UK,a  EU, Brexit and international trade policy

Primary school kid by Bill Wegener on Unsplash CC0Let’s keep this simple.

The World Trade Organization has seen a surge of interest because of Donald Trump’s trade policies and Brexit. Here are some explainers, including on the UK’s and EU’s relationship with the WTO.

  1. What is the WTO? And is it undemocratic? — August 18, 2018
  2. Introducing the WTO elephant and its dodgy health — December 17, 2017
  3. A real beginners’ guide to tariffs and the WTO — July 28, 2018
  4. A real beginners’ guide to tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) and the WTO — September 9, 2018
  5. WTO membership — will the UK have to negotiate to re-join the WTO? (No) — October 7, 2017
  6. What’s really happening on tariff quotas and Britain’s WTO commitments? — September 12, 2018, (Replaces older archived version: Tariff quotas — what are they and why have they suddenly become a hot issue? — October 7, 2017, updated November 21, 2017)
  7. Standards, regulations and trade in goods — September 5, 2018
  8. What are geographical indications? What do they mean for post-Brexit UK? — May 5, 2018, last update September 26, 2018

How does the Trade
Facilitation Agreement really
affect Brexit?

Small screenshot of TFA Facility web page with links to some TFA articlesThose who see no problems if the UK and EU fail to strike a deal regularly claim the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement will come to the rescue.

They are wrong.

Here’s why. — August 16, 2018

What is the WTO? And is it undemocratic?

Trade Negotiations Committee meeting 28 November 2017

In the past few weeks we’ve seen a revival of the old claim that the WTO is undemocratic.
Why? Because it has become a weapon in the Brexit war of words.
As ever, the truth is more complicated — August 17, 2018

Primary school kid by Bill Wegener on Unsplash CC0A real beginners’ guide to tariffs and the WTO

‘Can someone explain to me international tariffs and WTO law as if I were a six year old? Seriously. I don’t get it. At all. No frame of reference whatsoever. Any takers?’

Well, here goes … — July 28, 2018

Does the WTO require countries to control their borders?

Southampton docks at nightAmong the arguments that politicians are making about the Irish border are the claim either that WTO rules require countries to control their borders, or that the UK can drop border controls and wait to see what Ireland does.

One is partly false, the other totally — July 18, 2018

How does a nation of serial voters handle a referendum?

The ballot package
The jewels in the crown are not just the power given to the people, but also the clear, simple, comprehensive and impartial explanations that accompany the ballot papers March 2, 2018

A year on: the three essential tasks for the WTO’s trade facilitation deal

TFA ratifications by monthA year ago, two-thirds of the WTO’s membership had ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement, activating it in the ratifying countries.

What’s happened since then?

Update: the three essential tasks for the WTO’s trade facilitation deal February 22, 2018

Hard work lies ahead now that the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has been activated in 112 countries February 25, 2017

Grandfathering EU free trade deals for the UK: a look at an actual text

Grandfathering the EU-SKorea free trade agreementAfter Brexit, ‘Global Britain’ will want free trade agreements with the rest of the world. But it already has some 37 agreements with over 60 countries through the EU.

Rolling them over into the UK’s own agreements will not be automatic. A look at the actual text of the EU-South Korea deal shows why

February 13, 2018

Nairobi delegates CroppedSmall 19.12.2015What WTO leadership means and where the UK would fit in

People who should know better keep talking about the UK becoming a leader in the World Trade Organization.

Why? What exactly does this mean and what are the chances? — November 8, 2017

And: How to be a trade champion, a guide for busy politicians — November 21, 2017

Who put the boot into Canadian dairy and why?

Dairy cow Canada

When journalists don’t understand WTO work they jump to wrong conclusions. The questions Canada faced in the WTO Agriculture Committee were not a geopolitical attack. They were more important than that. By Robert Wolfe and Peter Ungphakorn — May 25, 2017

UK, EU & WTO — a presentation

Presentation coverA look at the UK, EU and WTO with an eye on Brexit.

Includes a brief explanation of the WTO system, a taste of how negotiations work in the WTO, and the implications for the UK (and EU) as they prepare for Brexit and beyond — May 25, 2017

If the EU and UK fall back on WTO commitments what does this mean for services?

aircraft small francois-van Unsplash CC0-688_cropped

Be warned. I’m not about to give a proper answer. This is an attempt to point to where the information can be found. There’s so much detail — 160 sub-sectors of it — I’ll wait for others to take up the baton — April 12, 2017, updated May 4, 2017

If we’re to understand the Brexit talks, the media must do better than this

brexit-referendum-uk-headlines 240x240The notion that the EU was uncompromising was as absurd as the claim that Brussels had buckled.

Brexit has entered a negotiating phase.

We need to understand negotiations and to spot flexibility in the noise

— April 1, 2017

Clock Big Ben 320x320The case of the two UK-EU ‘interim’ deals — is the one in the WTO really ‘Plan B’?

The move reported by Politico on March 19, 2017 is important, but it might not be what it seems

— March 20, 2017

Alternative thinking: Out of the box for Brexit — and radically

boxman-small-square-220Guest columnist Clemens Boonekamp proposes a surprising alternative on Brexit’s trade front.

Don’t negotiate. Announce. Find out more

— February 12, 2017

Why UK is already under WTO rules, and why that matters for Brexit


If we want to understand the UK’s trade relations with the EU after Brexit we cannot say that without a UK-EU deal they will “fall back on WTO rules”. Here’s why

— February 8, 2017

Questions on Brexit, agriculture, WTO schedules, standards, free trade agreements


Written replies to questions for the inquiry of the UK House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee’s inquiry on ‘Brexit: agriculture’, February 8, 2017. Plus a link to watch Alan Matthews and Joseph McMahon.

More …

— February 9, 2017

12 years on, EU’s certified WTO goods commitments now up to date to 2004

Schedule certification

Just before Christmas and almost unnoticed, the WTO circulated the EU’s “schedules” of commitments on goods (not services) to reflect its 2004 expansion from 15 to 25 members.

They also are now the UK’s current official WTO commitments.

What are they? Where can I find them?

— February 4, 2017

Six things I’ve learnt since the Brexit referendum: seeing both the wood and the trees

Woodland in mist, cropped

This is long, self-indulgent, and largely a memo to self.

Brexit is unprecedented.

The past few months have been a huge learning opportunity for all of us, in my case even within the narrow (but important) field of WTO rights and obligations.

What have I learnt?

— January 9, 2017

The race for the first ever WTO amendment: some key facts

Click to go to pageThe race has been won, but the process is not over. We now have the first two amendments to the World Trade Organization agreements to take effect since the organisation was set up in 1995. The winner was on access to medicines. A month later, the rival followed — on cutting red tape at the border

The target was 110 ratifications, two thirds of the WTO’s 164 members.

But so long as some countries still haven’t ratified, this is not as straightforward as it seems

— Updated March 5, 2018

Types of a possible future UK-EU trade deal

Containers at Antwerp

All you need to know about customs unions, free trade areas, rules of origin, the single market and agriculture. By Alan Swinbank, Reading University — January 10, 2017

The limits of ‘possibility’: Splitting the lamb-mutton quota for the UK and EU–27

sheep-bw-squareThis is an exercise in applying the “latest 3-year average” rule to the tariff quota on lamb and mutton.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has announced the UK will “replicate as far as possible” the EU’s commitments in the WTO.

This is a sound approach. But how far is “as far as possible”? — January 6, 2017

Read on …

Can EU law really dictate World Trade Organization rules?


This is a genuine question. I don’t know the answer. Hopefully some lawyers can help explain why the WTO and EU are trying to dodge the question of how to count the organisation’s members — December 1, 2016

Read on …

Brexit, agriculture, the WTO, and uncertainty

EU External Affairs and EU Internal Market sub-committees, 8 September 2016

Written replies to questions for the inquiry of the UK House of Lords’ EU External Affairs Sub-Committee on Brexit: future trade between the UK and the EU

‘There is still a considerable amount of uncertainty because we don’t know the answer to three underlying questions …’ — October 22, 2016

In a nutshell: Brexit and the UK’s trading relations with the EU

Nutshell UK EU Brexit tradeFive graphics summarising the four main options facing the UK for its trade relationship with the EU after Brexit.

The four options are well-known but their implications are not always understood.

More …  — September 19, 2016

Oranges: a litmus test of UK post-Brexit tariff negotiations


The UK currently charges complex import duties on oranges thanks to the EU. Will they survive Brexit? And will other countries want a say? Exploring post-Brexit tariffs: part 3
More …  — September 10, 2016 (last updated August 27, 2017)

How seriously should we view G20 words on resisting protectionism?

Hangzhou_1412 sq small monoEvery declaration by G20 leaders since 2012 has pledged to resist protectionism.

Their record has not matched their rhetoric — Updated September 6, 2016

More …

Is the UK government planning dodgy ‘access’ to the EU market?

Banking and cars sq BWProposed special deal with the EU on cars or banking could be illegal.

References to “access to the single market” are also misleading — the UK will have access to the EU single market after Brexit. That’s dead certain.   More …  — August 29, 2016

Book review: How ‘Dialogue of the Deaf’ produced a sound tool for policy-making

TRIPS book cover_160x160Book review first published on IP-Watch, October 22, 2015

“This should bury a number of myths. The memoirs of 17 key authors of a WTO agreement plus an editor’s remarks make a unique account of a complex international negotiation almost miraculously producing a deal” More … — August  26, 2016

This EU tariff takes the biscuit

sweet-almond-biscuits-cookies square - pexels - lifeofpixTaking the biscuit. If Brexit manages to get rid of this EU monstrosity, it will indeed be an achievement. Time for the UK to act. After all, it has been complicit for decades. Exploring post-Brexit tariffs: part 2
More … — August 18, 2016

Plus a really nerdy look at annex 1. The EU’s complex tariffs on these products are in its WTO commitments You have been warned … — August 18, 2016

Second bite — how simple is the UK-WTO relationship post-Brexit?

The_Watermelon_50pct cropped square_Elyse_Ashton_eating_cherriesMuch of the divergent opinion boils down to differing assumptions.

We can probably do better than ‘just take your pick’ because there is evidence available to assess at least some assumptions — August 17, 2016

More …

The Hilton beef quota: a taste of what post-Brexit UK faces in the WTO

Bear with me. This can be pretty complicated, if not downright murky. Exploring post-Brexit tariffs: part 1 — August 10, 2016       More …

TRQ_Aaron Van De Pol, Cologine Germany Unsplash CC0

Three thoughts on the Brexit referendum


Welcome to fantasyland.

  • Are the toughest Brexit negotiations likely to be within the UK itself?
  • Anyone for a ‘Swiss option’?
  • Drug prices, bent bananas, TTIP — have the media missed a trick?

— June 29, 2016       More …

Nothing simple about UK regaining WTO status post-Brexit

European Parliamnet hpgruessen Cropped CC0pugblic domain

It’s complex enough to fuel the arguments of campaigners on both sides, delight trade lawyers, and frustrate everyone else — June 7, 2016       More

WTO amendment on access to medicines faces EU conundrum

conundrum-pull-quote-110-membersOnly three more ratifications are needed for the WTO’s first ever amendment to take effect.

Or is it … FOUR?

The World Trade Organization is finally close to achieving an amendment to its rules. Only a handful of members still need to formally accept new provisions dealing with one aspect of access to medicines.

But how many, exactly?
— Original April 14, 2016. Updated November 30, 2016