Paris promises ‘unique’ trade deal if UK agrees to play fair
The EU is ready to broker a “unique” trade partnership with the UK after the country leaves the bloc, but only if Britain commits to complying with EU labour and environmental standards, France’s trade minister has said.
Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, the French minister responsible for commerce, told the Financial Times that both sides needed a future trading relationship that was “very close” and that the outcome of negotiations was unlikely to “resemble any other bilateral agreement, any other trade agreement” the EU has struck, given geographical proximity and historical ties.
But he added that “fair play” and a level playing field on regulation “will be at the heart of our demands for the future relationship . . . We have a mutual interest to preserve this flow of goods and to avoid dumping.”
Under the terms of the Brexit deal that Boris Johnson struck with EU leaders in October, the EU and Britain will seek to reach agreement on a future relationship with duty-free and quota-free access for goods, as well as market access on services that at least matches recent agreements the EU has struck with Japan and Canada.
Both sides have said they want talks to begin quickly after Britain leaves, with the country’s post-Brexit transition period set to expire at the end of 2020, when tariffs and other restrictions could kick in if a deal is not reached in time.
Mr Lemoyne insisted that, should Britain leave the EU as planned on January 31, Paris wanted negotiations to be conducted with real ambition, given that jobs were at stake if a deep future partnership cannot be built.
“We need a good agreement to secure jobs, growth on both sides of the Channel,” he said, noting that this is of particular concern to France given the size of the two countries’ bilateral trading relationship, which was worth £85bn last year, according to UK government data.
However, one of the most hard-fought parts of the negotiation is expected to be over Brussels’ insistence on commitments from Britain to sticking closely to EU environmental regulations, labour market law and state-aid policy.
Mr Lemoyne echoed previous warnings from EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and French president Emmanuel Macron that these commitments would need to be substantial. The EU could not take the risk of Britain loosening its laws in a way that would allow it to compete unfairly in the European market, the French minister said.
Any deal which did not contain such guarantees would be extremely difficult to ratify in the EU because it would require approval from MEPs and national parliaments, Mr Lemoyne said.
“National parliaments have shown that they are increasing demands when it comes to trade deals, notably when it comes to the area of social rights and the environment,” he said.
He noted that France remained opposed to ratification of the EU’s trade deal with Mercosur because of Brazil’s failure to uphold commitments it made, as part of the 2016 Paris climate deal, to protect the Amazon.
“Our problem is that we see that the daily reality is that Brazil’s actions go in the opposite direction to the commitments,” Mr Lemoyne said. “At this stage, we are not in a position to be able to support this agreement.”