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
POSTED NOVEMBER 21, 2022 | UPDATED NOVEMBER 23, 2022

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”
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WTO agriculture negotiators face challenge of thinking outside the box(es)

Monday’s retreat is an attempt to produce fresh thinking that might break the deadlock in the two remaining pillars.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 23, 2022 | UPDATED OCTOBER 24, 2022

See also the report on the retreat (published October 26, 2022):
WTO agriculture retreat said strong on context but weak on give-and-take

Brain-storming. Blue sky thinking. Wiping the slate clean. Thinking outside the box. Pick your cliché. World Trade Organization (WTO) members’ ambassadors and agriculture attachés go on a “retreat” tomorrow (October 24) as they try to discover solutions where none have been found for over a decade.

The common impression is that the WTO agriculture negotiations have achieved nothing since they started almost a quarter of a century ago in 2000.

This is partly because after just over a year (in 2001), the talks were rolled into the newly launched and broader Doha Round of WTO negotiations. And now the Doha Round is widely considered to be dead.

Officially the position is more complicated. Some members say the Doha Round is over. Others say the original mandate continues — they refuse to endorse the end of the round.

In practice some parts of the Doha Round have been concluded, such as the Trade Facilitation and Fisheries Subsidies agreements. Other parts are in limbo or the talks have dried up, at least among the full membership. What has faded away is the idea of the talks as one unified package or “single undertaking”.

(An aside here. What almost no one has noticed is that the Trade Negotiations Committee of the WTO membership — with the director-general ex officio in the chair — still meets. This committee was set up specifically within the Doha Round. If the round has ended so should the Trade Negotiations Committee. That would also mean the director-general has no official position in any council or committee of the WTO membership.)

Continue reading “WTO agriculture negotiators face challenge of thinking outside the box(es)”

No agreement on India’s call for WTO ministers to discuss COVID-19 waiver

Many delegations argued that ministers meeting online would not be able to break the deadlock

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JANUARY 10, 2022 | UPDATED JANUARY 11, 2022

India’s call for an online WTO ministerial meeting to  discuss the proposed intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 fell well short of consensus at an informal General Council meeting today (January 10, 2022).

Many delegations countering that members would have to be much closer to agreement on the proposed waiver before a meeting of ministers would be able to contribute to a solution, said sources familiar with today’s discussion of just over two hours.

Continue reading “No agreement on India’s call for WTO ministers to discuss COVID-19 waiver”

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 DECEMBER 17, 2021

“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.

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 calls a “disclaimer”, says:

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 it does show some of what is intended for agricultural products.

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

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

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

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JANUARY 1, 2021 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 4, 2021

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
POSTED NOVEMBER 30, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 1, 2020

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.

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Australia’s deals with the EU
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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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FACT CHECK: Which UK geographical indications are in its trade deal with Japan?

The British government shouldn’t spoil the achievements of the deal by making exaggerated claims

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 26, 2020 | UPDATED NOVEMBER 28, 2022

UPDATE a year later: So far no new British geographical indications have been registered in Japan. But the EU has secured protection (officially “designated” geographical indications) for 21 new food names since February 1, 2021 — items 75–95 on this list (with 17 more apparently pending comment on this list). And according to the US Department of Agriculture, three new spirits and four new wines were also registered, although they are not yet listed in English on the official Japanese website.

The UK International Trade Department said on October 22, 2021 that discussions with Japan on protecting new names started early in the year. The UK shared its list with Japan on April 30. These British geographical indications “will now go through Japan’s procedures as quickly as possible,” the department said.

More on Japanese lists of registered names can be found below.

_________

TWO YEARS LATER: Still no new UK geographical indications registered in Japan. The number of the EUs added names has increased by the previously-pending 17 to reach 38.

Ben Ramanauskas, a former adviser to Liz Truss and the UK International Trade Department, wrote this explanation on November 27, 2022:

“… After the negotiations were finalised I was tasked by Liz Truss (possibly as a punishment) to work on ensuring that the new Geographical Indications (GIs) were recognised by the Japanese Government. GIs essentially mean that certain UK products receive protected status in another country, so that there would be no imitation[*] Cheddar Cheese or Cornish Pasties being produced in Tokyo or Kyoto. This is all well and good, but could hardly be considered a priority given how economically insignificant many of the industries set to benefit are. The politics of it all matters unfortunately, and it makes for nice headlines especially if accompanied with a photo next to some flags.”

* Note “imitation” is not correct here. For protected geographical indications, imitation is allowed. Using the same name is not.


Britain’s new trade agreement with Japan contains some improvements over the EU-Japan deal it rolls over, but some of London’s claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.

“It’s a roll-over of the EU deal with extra bits. And that’s a success too. That’s still better than we thought we’re going to get. Why not just say that?” tweeted trade advisor Anna Jerzewska.

She was commenting on the claim by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss that this “first trade agreement” for Britain “as an independent trading nation” has “major wins that would be impossible as part of the EU.”

Continue reading “FACT CHECK: Which UK geographical indications are in its trade deal with Japan?”

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

Chapter-by-chapter links

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 24, 2020 | UPDATED JANUARY 25, 2021

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).

Continue reading “Text of the UK-Japan trade deal: user-friendly download links”