Boris Johnson doesn’t like to give up easily, so his latest promise is that the UK will complete a free trade agreement with the EU by 31 December next year. As he has stated, if he wins the election in December, the UK will be able to strike a free-trade agreement within just 12 months.

Is this possible?

According to the Financial Times, “few trade experts believe this is possible.” The reason being is the difficulty of having an agreement ready in such a short time, especially considering Brexit happening in January, and a transition period lasting until 31 December 2020. If this is the case, the article argues, the UK and EU would need to have agreed on “a comprehensive trade agreement by the end of next year. If they haven't, the UK in effect falls out of the EU with no deal. Most trade experts say a free trade agreement can’t be concluded that quickly.”

For many Brexiters, the UK wants to complete a similar kind of agreement as the Canada plus one, which took seven years for the EU to conclude and which will need the approval of all 27 remaining EU states.

Managing director of Eurasia Group Mujtaba Rahman has confirmed the impossibility of agreeing any trade agreement between the UK and EU. Talking to the FT, he said: “Remember this will be a trade agreement unlike any before. Normally trade agreements are designed to promote economic convergence. This one will be about managing divergence. That’s much more complicated.” 

As the government is not open to extending the transition period beyond the start of 2021, Johnson will have to win the election with a majority, something that will again open the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

A Canada style free-trade deal

Boris is not looking for a close economic partnership, but rather for a trade agreement similar to the so-called Canada plus agreement, that will define the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Canada’s trade agreement with the EU is considered one of the most ambitious ones and is officially called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). IT was signed in 2016 and was enforced in September. However, it hasn’t been ratified yet by all the countries, a step that could take several years.

The specific Canada trade deal has helped increase exports to Canada with Canada’s Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr stating that: "At the Port of Montreal alone, we have seen 20% more traffic in goods headed across the Atlantic. This enormous step in growth for Canada and the EU has been the reason why new shipping lanes have been added to accommodate container traffic."

According to the deal, 98% of all tariffs on goods traded between Canada and the EU are duty free, something however, that, does not mean no border controls. Additionally, when it comes to the financial services, CETA does not offer anything that is not already covered by World Trade Organization rules. There is no"passporting" rights that will allow Canadian financial companies to sell their services in EU member states. Finally, there will still be tariffs on some products and quotas on certain agricultural products.

Not Ideal for UK and EU exporters

A Canada plus-type agreement might enable the UK to leave the EU customs union and decide on its own tariff rates, but it won’t necessarily solve all the issues faced by UK and EU exporters. There will be costs and additional bureaucratic documentation that will be too complicated or costly for companies.

EU: Any future trade agreement will be “difficult”

The European Union's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier talking on Tuesday at the Web Summit, in Lisbon, said that negotiations on a future trading relationship with Britain would be "difficult and demanding," as the EU "will not tolerate unfair competitive advantage." "The UK should not think that zero tariffs, zero quotas will be enough," and that time would be "extremely short" for negotiations. He added that the UK still faced the threat of a no-deal Brexit: “Even when the [Brexit] deal is ratified it will not be the end of the story ... We have to build a new partnership with the UK after they withdraw."

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Sterling has suffered after Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexit rhetoric caused reaction among economists and cabinet ministers who continue to warn against it.

A free trade agreement after no-deal Brexit

Johnson’s government and figures in his cabinet, such as Dominic Raab, said that the UK would be in an advantageous position to negotiate a good deal after no-deal Brexit. European Union officials rejected Raab’s claim that agreeing on a free-trade deal after a no-deal Brexit would be “much easier.” A senior EU diplomat expressed the EU’s fears that a no-deal Brexit would trigger the destruction of political relationships and a rhetoric of blaming.

He said: “It would mean the complete breakdown of political relations and I don’t think there would be much trust on the EU side with the Tories, or with the prime minister. Eventually we would get around it because we are pragmatic, but this would be really, really bad, because of all the rhetoric around blaming.”

For another diplomat, after a no-deal Brexit, contact between the EU and the UK would break down: “Our phones will not be connected at that time … I don’t think they will be connected to someone who has reneged on their obligations.”

For the European officials, the most important element is to honour the three basic principles of the withdrawal agreement: citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the financial settlement.

Despite Johnson’s claims to the opposite, renegotiating a trade deal would be a lengthy and arduous process, something almost impossible. As Tanja Fajon, the Social Democrat member of the European parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said, renegotiating “a free trade agreement usually takes years and I believe the UK doesn’t have that time after a no-deal Brexit.”

In addition, Johnson’s character, his threatening attitude towards the EU, make him an unlikeable character according to the MEP, allied to the Labour party: “Who would want to do business with [Johnson] if he is serious with his threats not to pay €60bn (£54bn) debts to the EU? Who wants to deal with the country who doesn’t pay its bills?”

EU hoping for soft Brexit Tories to stop no-deal Brexit

 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Raab said that it would be easier to deal with the Irish border through a free-trade agreement after the UK is released from the EU’s “demands and unilateral dictates.”

Over the weekend, it was rumoured that Johnson was “turbo-charging” preparations for no deal, while his strategist for a no-deal Brexit, Michael Gove, said the government was preparing for leaving without a deal.

 

But the EU is reluctant to reopen the deal that was agreed with Theresa May, hoping that certain Tories would try and prevent the hardcore Brexiteers from crashing out of the EU without a deal. The EU would seek to defend its own interests, a spokesman of the European commission said, as Johnson’s ministers continue supporting their no-deal Brexit plans.

He said: “The UK preparedness is not for us to deal with. Our no-deal preparedness protects the EU and our interests in the case of a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal scenario is not our preferred outcome.”

Universal Partners FX and hedging strategies against volatility

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While the government would ideally want to avoid a no-deal outcome, leaving without a deal is increasingly becoming a very likely prospect, something that is worrying both investors and ministers.

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