Why it’s a mistake to talk about a ‘Swiss-style’ post-Brexit UK-EU deal

We struggle to grasp unfamiliar detail and nuance. So we invent labels and waste time and energy debating what they mean

By Peter Ungphakorn

Maybe it was because someone thought it would be a good idea to stick a label on where UK-EU relations might be heading now that the atmosphere between the two is widely reported to have improved. Or perhaps it was just because people were bored while waiting for the football World Cup to start.

Whatever the reason, “Swiss-style ties with Brussels” suddenly became big news over the weekend after the Sunday Times reported (November 20, 2022, paywalled, but some more detail here) that the British government is considering exactly that.

Reactions ranged from “Doubt it. EU hates its relationship with Switzerland & Switzerland hates its relationship with EU” (Mujtaba Rahman, here), to “when someone says ‘Swiss-style’ relationship, rather than hearing ‘a slightly better relationship [than] now’ everyone is like ‘LET ME GET MY NOTES’” (Sam Lowe, here).

The problem here is that “Swiss-style” is being used as shorthand. It’s a label, but one that’s misleading and not really explained. Both of the reactions above are valid, at least to some extent, but they are talking about different things.

Continue reading “Why it’s a mistake to talk about a ‘Swiss-style’ post-Brexit UK-EU deal”

Milestone or inchpebble? The first UK ‘trade deal’ with a US state, Indiana

It’s a non-binding memorandum of understanding and Indiana itself could hardly be less interested

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 29, 2022 | UPDATED MAY 31, 2022

“They said a US trade deal couldn’t be done. It can. We are doing it.”

That declaration by UK Minister of State for Trade Policy Penny Mordaunt is the headline on a piece she wrote on a partisan website to celebrate signing an agreement with the US state, Indiana.

But is it a “US trade deal”?

  • It is not with the “US”, but Indiana — a state with 2% of the US population (at 6 million slightly more than Yorkshire or Scotland), less than 2% of the US economy (GDP), and less than 1% of its area (ranked 38th of the 50 US states)
  • The actual “trade” content is minimal, when compared with what governments usually sign in trade agreements
  • “Deal” is misleading since this is not the conclusion of anything. It’s a memorandum of understanding (MoU) — or joint statement of intent — on future cooperation and on what future talks will cover. The way it’s presented stretches the meaning of “agreement” a lot.

The phrase “trade deal” is itself a problem.

Continue reading “Milestone or inchpebble? The first UK ‘trade deal’ with a US state, Indiana”

With little fanfare, the US splits its tariff quotas for UK and EU exports

Most the attention has been on splitting EU import quotas post-Brexit. This is the other side of the coin. Presumably the UK and EU are OK with it

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JULY 5, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 5, 2021

On the eve of the July 4 holiday, the United States announced new tariff quotas for some dairy products and tobacco imported from Britain and the European Union, from 2022.

This is the other side of the coin for an issue that has received much more attention — how the tariff quotas for imports into the original EU28 are being split between the post-Brexit EU27 and the UK, the on-going discussion in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the resolution with some of the objecting countries.

Presumably Britain and the EU have accepted these new conditions on their exports.

Continue reading “With little fanfare, the US splits its tariff quotas for UK and EU exports”

UK-Australia trade deal: when a cap on farm goods is not a cap

Once again the British government has over-claimed on the effects of an agreement

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 18, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 2, 2023

“British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards,” declared the UK International Trade Department on June 15, 2021.

But will they, though? The text of the agreement-in-principle between Britain and Australia was published a few days later, also in several formats on the Australian government website.

It was not a final deal. That was eventually signed six months later, on December 16, 2021. It took effect on May 31, 2023.

Much of the June agreement-in-principle was in the future tense — agreement between the two “will include” this that and the other. Negotiations continued.

A note at the end of the text, which the Australian government called a “disclaimer”, said:

DISCLAIMER: This document reflects what the UK and Australian FTA [free trade agreement] negotiating teams have jointly decided as of 16 June 2021 should be included in the FTA once it is finalised. It does not prejudge the outcome of the FTA negotiations or any further proposals for FTA commitments either the UK or Australia may make after this date. It is also not intended to create any treaty obligations.”

But the agreement-in-principle did show some of what is intended for agricultural products.

The reason it was announced on June 15 is because British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison wanted a fanfare for their post-G7 meeting, even if the negotiations were incomplete.

Two years later when the agreement came into force, Politico published this account of what happened at the Johnson-Morrison dinner before the announcement in 2021.

Continue reading “UK-Australia trade deal: when a cap on farm goods is not a cap”

Down a rabbit hole in search of the Wensleydale deal with Norway

Transparency doesn’t just mean making information available. It means making it accessible and understandable

Rabbit hole noun

A complexly bizarre or difficult state or situation conceived of as a hole into which one falls or descends
I wanted to show this woman descending into the rabbit hole: this loss of self, becoming a servant to her job and to the work — Jessica Chastain

Especially : One in which the pursuit of something (such as an answer or solution) leads to other questions, problems, or pursuits
— While trying to find the picture again on Google, I fell down the Cosmo rabbit hole, scrolling through a gallery of swimwear, then through “How to Be Sexier-Instantly” and then through all 23 slides of “Sexy Ideas for Long Hair.” — Edith Zimmerman

Merriam Webster Dictionary online

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 8, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 9, 2021

This is a cautionary tale about just how difficult it is to crack the secret codes of trade agreements. We can ask a simple question: how will the agreement change trade in a particular product. To reach the answer we often have to venture out into a wonderland of obscure paths and hidden traps.

Does it matter? Yes, if we want to find out for ourselves what is in the agreement. Bob Wolfe and I have argued at length about the need for more transparency in trade. This is true of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is part of the rabbit warren. It is also true of free trade agreements.

Transparency doesn’t just mean making information available. It means making it accessible and understandable. Tracking down tariff commitments can be a nightmare, as this story shows.

Continue reading “Down a rabbit hole in search of the Wensleydale deal with Norway”

The UK’s rolled-over deals after the Brexit transition

UK trade agreements with non-EU countries on January 1, 2020

By Peter Ungphakorn

On January 1, 2021, Britain left the EU Single Market and customs union. That meant the EU’s free trade agreements with non-EU countries no longer applied to the UK.

The British government has negotiated, at speed, “roll-over” agreements with those non-EU countries in order to reproduce the effects of those agreements as much as possible so that continuity is maximised for UK business.

This article does not look at the contents or depth of the deals. It simply counts how many of the EU’s free trade agreements have been “rolled over” into continuity agreements with the UK, and how many have not been done.

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‘No deal’ on UK-EU trade is worse than ‘Australia-style’

In the final days of the UK-EU talks on their future relationship, we may hear a lot more of the mythical Australia model

By Peter Ungphakorn

As the risk of failure in the UK- EU talks on their future relationship increases towards the end of the Brexit transition, the British government is trying to disguise “no deal” as if it were some kind of deal.

Australia’s deals with the EU
Incomparable trade profiles
Free trade agreements
More charts

What Brexiters used to call a “WTO deal”, is now “An Australia-type relationship” in coordinated messaging from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his Cabinet, and his supporters in Parliament. Among the latest is Environment and Farming Secretary George Eustice. He of all people should know better.

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Text of the UK-Japan trade deal: user-friendly download links

Chapter-by-chapter links

By Peter Ungphakorn

The UK-Japan free trade agreement was signed in Tokyo on October 23, 2020. This page provides user-friendly links to download different chapters and annexes of the entire agreement.

Why do this? On the UK government’s website, the files are sub-divided somewhat arbitrarily — in particular the long files of goods schedules are split at arbitrary places, making it difficult to identify what each file contains.

The files linked here were taken from that website (on October 24, 2020), then redivided and in some cases recombined into chapters and annexes, and labelled accordingly.

This should also help in comparing the agreement, chapter by chapter, with the EU-Japan agreement (full details here).

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Four years on, still basic mistakes on tariffs at the very top of UK politics

An exchange on tariffs in the Commons Liaison Committee shows a lack of basic understanding by Johnson, the chair of a key committee and a leading journalist

By Peter Ungphakorn

Here we go again. You’d have thought they would get it right by now. After all it’s over four years since the Brexit referendum thrust trade and World Trade Organization (WTO) rules into the British political consciousness.

And yet, there we were, on September 16, 2020, a few weeks before a UK-EU trade agreement was supposed to be concluded, listening to two leading politicians showing they still don’t get the most basic rule in international trade.

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Will ‘Melton Mowbray’ stay protected in the EU after the Brexit transition?

The UK has agreed to keep EU names protected, but what about UK names in the EU?

By Peter Ungphakorn

News that Britain wanted to renegotiate a deal struck in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement on geographical indications — names such as Scotch whisky, Melton Mowbray pies, Cognac and Roquefort cheese — has triggered a discussion about what exactly was agreed, what wasn’t included and why not.

A report in The Guardian (echoing some earler reports) said the EU was “flabbergasted” that the UK wanted to water down the deal on geographical indications. “It’s just not going to happen,” the report quoted an EU official as saying.

Continue reading “Will ‘Melton Mowbray’ stay protected in the EU after the Brexit transition?”