One last go. The Article 24 red herring in less than 400 words. Think ‘highway code’

“We want to use GATT Article 24” means “We want a free trade agreement in goods that complies with WTO rules”. It doesn’t say much

The GATT Article 24 red herring

By Peter Ungphakorn

They still don’t understand. Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is still being pushed as a silver bullet to solve “no deal” Brexit.

“Article 24 […] is a simple, temporary basic free trade agreement (FTA) between UK and EU which allows tariffs and quotas to continue at zero whilst a full and comprehensive FTA is negotiated instead,” is a typical and very recent claim.

GATT Article 24 is nothing of the kind. The claim has been debunked over and over and over and over and over. Still the message hasn’t got through.

So here it is again, this time in less than 400 words.

A real beginner’s guide to GATT Article 24, June 24, 2019
• The final section, “The magical GATT Art24”, of “Caught up in a war — the WTO and Brexit”, April 6, 2019
• “The myth of a 10-year grace period, Brexit and trade talks with the EU”, December 27, 2018
Brexit through the magic land of Eksive, May 31, 2019

The article sets the WTO’s rules for free trade agreements in goods.

All free trade agreements in goods.

Any kind of free trade agreement in goods.

If you say “We’re going to use GATT Article 24”, you’re saying “We’re going to have a free trade agreement in goods.”

Bye! We’re off to follow the Highway Code
Bye! We’re off to follow the Highway Code

‘Follow the Highway Code’

If you ride a bicycle, scooter or motorbike; if you drive a car, van, bus or truck; whichever of those you do, you have to follow the Highway Code.

When you leave the house, you don’t say, “Bye. I’m off to follow the Highway Code.”

You say, “I’m off for a cycle round Richmond Park,” or “I’m visiting Mother in Norwich, taking the Porsche”, or “I’m heading for Cupar to deliver a truckload to Tesco”, or “I’m driving a coachload of gamblers to Monte Carlo.”

Saying you’ll follow the Highway Code tells us nothing about where you’re heading.

smokescreen pexels cc0 cropped
Smokescreen: just saying “Article 24” hides real-world impact

GATT Art.24

GATT Article 24’s the same.

“We want to use GATT Article 24” means “We want a free trade agreement in goods that complies with WTO rules”.

It could be anything. Absolutely anything. From cycling round Richmond Park (“a basic free trade agreement”) to driving a juggernaut (EU Single Market), temporary or permanent.

“Think of it as the paper you write agreements on. Not worth discussing,” tweeted Cambridge law academic Lorand Bartels.

So the key points are:

  • What version of a GATT Article 24 deal is being proposed instead of “no deal”?
  • If it only covers tariffs and quotas, how do companies deal with regulations, standards and services?
  • And crucially: Will the EU agree? Without a backstop on the Irish border?

“Article 24” alone is a smokescreen to hide the real-world implications.

That’s it. Less than 400 words.


A thread by European Parliament Member David Bannerman on February 15, 2019:

My rebuttal thread:

Another Twitter thread by Dmitry Grozoubinski

And the last word goes to Lorand Bartels

Updates: None so far
Photocredits: All public domain CC0.


Author: Peter Ungphakorn

I used to work at the WTO Secretariat (1996–2015), and am now an occasional freelance journalist, focusing mainly on international trade rules, agreements and institutions. (Previously, analysis for AgraEurope.) Trade β Blog is for trialling ideas on trade and any other subject, hence “β”. You can respond by using the contact form on the blog or tweeting @CoppetainPU

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