As world leaders gather in Hamburg for tomorrow’s G20 summit, the European Union has something new to brandish: a free trade deal “ in principle” with Japan. This outline agreement has taken eighteen rounds of negotiations in just over four years to hammer out. European leaders are chuffed with their “big breakthrough”, and are clearly keen to talk up their diplomatic efforts as a sign of what benefits await members of the bloc, but they should hold off celebrations as their struggle to get their trade deal with Canada (Ceta) into force shows their work is far from over.
Nearly eight years after launching negotiations, the EU-Canada deal seems grounded by concerns from artisan cheese-makers in Canada and Europe’s pharmaceutical industry about the deal’s potential impact. Justin Trudeau is hoping to push the deal at the G20 summit, with the view of provisionally implementing it next year. The EU doesn’t have much of a record for signing trade deals swiftly, which is why Brexiteers are keen for Britain to leave the Customs Union so it can do deals and trade with aplomb. David Cameron reportedly thinks that could best happen by following the Norway model, despite previously pouring scorn on such an outcome.
The EU is not rushing to do a deal with Britain in preparation for its departure. Michel Barnier insisted in Brussels today that frictionless trade would be impossible, and that Britain had more to lose than the remaining 27 EU nations if it were to walk away from talks without a deal. “To my British partners I say: a fair deal is far better than no deal,” the EU’s chief negotiator said. He also ruled out sector by sector participation in the single market, and suggested his red lines had not been “fully understood across the Channel”. His fighting talk comes as he prepares to face his British counterpart – David Davis – again later this month for their second round of talks.
The EU’s chief negotiator is meant to represent the collective will of the EU27, although Peter Foster suggests that one group in particular could hold up negotiations: the French. Emmanuel Macron’s belief that Brexit must prove how much worse life is for countries outside of the Union could see the talks swiftly become acrimonious. “The risk,” Foster writes, is that “Brexit Britain must be made to look ten times worse” in order to make the case EU ‘solidarity’. In this scenario Mr Macron becomes a fundamentally polarising force. If that happens, then the vision of a controlled, constructive Brexit that leaves both sides free to prosper as good neighbours, will become almost impossible to realise.”
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