Negotiations are taking place amid the unforeseen circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. As Britain leaves the EU, the two sides must swiftly reach an agreement on their new relationship.
The two sides have resumed face-to-face talks that had been postponed due to the coronavirus crisis. The scope of negotiations is extensive, covering the signing of free trade agreements, the creation of rules on fishing rights, mechanisms for resolving conflicts and antiterrorism measures.
The problem is there are only six months left.
Britain left the EU at the end of January but will be treated as equivalent to a member state until the end of this year. If an FTA is not signed within this transition period, tariffs between Britain and the EU will be restored. This will be a burden on the activities of businesses on both sides and will inevitably disrupt logistics networks.
It is feared that multinational companies with production bases in Britain will also be affected. It will be to Britain’s detriment if those companies move their bases out of the country.
The EU has asked Britain to bring its subsidies and environmental standards up to EU standards as a condition for signing an FTA. Britain is poised to pursue its own policies. The gap between the two sides remains wide.
The EU’s response to the coronavirus crisis has seen its members fall out of step over the provision of medical assistance to Italy. The question is whether the EU will be able to maintain unity during negotiations with Britain.
The administration of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to “regain political and economic independence on January 1 next year”. It hinted the idea of the transition period ending even if no agreement has been reached with the EU, which is worrisome.
Britain and the EU should adopt a flexible stance, extending the transition period if negotiations are unsuccessful.
Europe has already been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.
More than 40,000 people have died in Britain, and EU member states also have seen many deaths. There are also aftereffects from the strict lockdowns. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that the economies of Britain and the eurozone will shrink by 10.2 per cent this year.
To prevent further deterioration of the global economy, the two parties must do their utmost in negotiations and transition smoothly to a new relationship.
Japan has started negotiations on a trade agreement with Britain. Japan has an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU, but Britain will not be included in the agreement after the transition period.
The relationship between Japan and Britain must be strengthened, with the possibility of Britain joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership in mind.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK