The UK-EU (draft) free trade deal: three things we know this Christmas Eve morning

Thu 24 Dec 2020
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

The ink may not be yet dry but details are emerging from various sources about elements in the draft of an historic free trade deal expected to be agreed today between the UK and the European Union.

The Guido Fawkes political blog has published what it claims is a UK government analysis of the deal

The internal report suggests the UK has 'won' on 43% of key issues, with both sides compromising on 40% of issues, and the EU ‘winning’ 17% of its wish list.

Here are three areas upon which reliable media sources believe the UK and EU have agreed.

1. Tariff- and quota-free trade

We know a lot about the UK-EU negotiators’ late night haggling over state aid and fish (agreement about which is holding up this morning’s expected announcement by prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen).

Let’s remind ourselves, though, that the ultimate prize in these negotiations was to maintain tariff- and quota-free trade between the two powers, with a £668bn trading relationship at stake.

More than half (52%) of UK imports come from the EU, worth £374bn, while the EU's 27 member states represent 43% of all UK exports (in 2019).

Media reports suggest that UK-EU trade without tariffs and quotas has been agreed.

2. Rules of Origin

A less prominent but still vital aim for UK negotiators has been to keep car manufacturing in England viable for Japanese giants Toyota and Nissan, especially for their respective electric car marques.

So as part of agreeing zero tariffs on UK car exports, UK negotiators had to win concessions on rules of origin.

Rules of origin – see the IOE&IT’s handy guide here – are used to define where a product was made and are important for implementing trade preferences (preferential rules of origin), quotas, anti-dumping measures and countervailing duties (non-preferential rules of origin).

The FT reports that the UK has won concessions to make it possible for electric cars produced in England to be traded tariff-free – even if a relatively high proportion of their components come from the rest of the world.

3. Level playing field

Arguments over the so-called level playing field – a common feature in trade agreements – have bedevilled negotiations for a UK-EU deal. 

The BBC reminds us that the trade-policy term denotes “a set of common rules and standards that prevent businesses in one country gaining a competitive advantage over those operating in other countries”.

The EU has let it be known that agreeing to a level playing field is a big part of the price the UK must pay for a zero-tariff, zero-quota trade deal with the largest trading bloc in the world.

The FT reports that the draft deal includes a new arbitration mechanism intended to ensure that level playing field between the two sides.

There is provision for sanctions – in the form of tariffs – if either side undercuts the other’s regulations in areas such as environmental protection and workers' rights.

UK plc begins its sigh of relief…

After four years of nail-biting uncertainty, UK plc is breathing a noticeable sigh of relief.

The FTSE 100 rose by 20 points to 6,516, a rise of 0.3%, after markets opened at 8am this morning.

The pound rose by around 0.6% against the US dollar before markets opened in London, and 0.4% against the euro.

... as parliament prepares for a swift vote

Commentators agree that MPs and peers are likely to be recalled around December 30, with the government planning to have the deal passed in parliament in one day.

Hilary Benn, chair of the Brexit select committee, told the BBC there was “no doubt” MPs would give their assent.