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People's Daily Online

UK, EU clinch Christmas trade deal, yet not a gift for all

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 10:30, December 25, 2020

LONDON/BRUSSELS, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- A Christmas cracker was announced Thursday as Britain and the European Union (EU) finally secured a free trade deal following nine months of tortuous negotiations.

With only a week to go before the Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31, the deal brought much relief to politicians and businesses across Europe and looked to help both sides of the English Channel rebuild their trust following years of Brexit bitterness.

However, not everyone was happy with the deal, which will govern the EU-UK trade and security relationship starting from Jan. 1, 2021. Challenges still remain as Britain and the EU part as "old friends" in the new year.


Four and a half years after Britain voted to leave the EU, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was finally able to claim victory and said "we have taken back control."

"We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation, in a way that is complete and unfettered," Johnson said Thursday during a virtual press conference at Downing Street.

According to a statement released by Downing Street, the agreement is the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either side, covering trade worth 660 billion British pounds (893 billion U.S. dollars) in 2019.

"The deal also guarantees that we are no longer in the lunar pull of the EU, we are not bound by EU rules. There is no role for the European Court of Justice and all of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved. It means that we will have full political and economic independence on 1st January 2021," said the statement.

Professor Iain Begg from the London School of Economics (LSE) said both London and Brussels have had to make "uncomfortable concessions" to strike the trade deal.

Begg, co-director of the Dahrendorf Forum at the LSE's European Institute, told Xinhua: "Both sides have had to 'bend' in the last frantic effort to prevent the mutual self-harm that would have arisen from 'no-deal', with the chaos at Dover as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions providing a timely reminder of what might have happened."

Thousands of trucks had been trapped near the port city of Dover in southeastern England as France shut down its borders with Britain amid fears over the spread of a new coronavirus strain.

"It is now beyond the question of who won or lost. As in any deal, both sides will, no doubt claim victory, but in reality they have had to make uncomfortable concessions," Begg said.

Begg added that given the sheer weight of the EU in British trade, he always expected a deal.

The EU is Britain's largest trading partner. In 2019, Britain's exports to the EU were 294 billion pounds, accounting for about 43 percent of all British exports, according to figures published by the UK Parliament. Britain's imports from the EU were 374 billion pounds, about 52 percent of all British imports.

Meanwhile, Britain is the EU's third largest trading partner in goods, following China and the United States.

"The UK will, no doubt, continue with its efforts to strike new deals elsewhere, but the EU is, and will remain, its most important market," added Begg.


At a press conference in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: "It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it."

Von der Leyen described the deal as "fair" and "balanced," noting that competition rules "will be fair and remain so," as EU rules and standards "will be respected."

The UK and EU will "continue cooperating in all areas of mutual interest... Together we still achieve more than we do apart," she said.

According to a press statement by the European Commission, the UK-EU agreement covers not just trade in goods and services, but also a broad range of other areas, such as investment, competition, fisheries and social security coordination.

Both parties have committed to ensuring a robust level playing field by maintaining high levels of protection in areas such as environmental protection, the fight against climate change and carbon pricing, said the statement.

The deal also includes "a horizontal agreement on governance." A Joint Partnership Council will be established to make sure the deal is properly applied and interpreted, and in which all arising issues will be discussed.

Both German and French leaders welcomed the deal. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the trade pact is "of historical importance." "With the agreement, we are creating the basis for a new chapter in our relationship," she said in a statement.

"European unity and steadfastness have paid off," French President Emmanuel Macron said in reaction to the deal. "Europe is moving forward and can look to the future, united, sovereign and strong," he added.

European scholars also welcomed the deal.

"With the conclusion of the agreement, there is now more predictability and certainty for future trade relations between the EU and the UK," said Achim Wambach, president of the Leibniz Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) based in Germany.


The trade deal will certainly help avoid a Brexit cliff edge on Jan. 1, 2021, but it is not a Christmas gift for all.

The deal "is a disastrous Brexit outcome for Scottish farmers...and like all other aspects of Brexit, foisted on Scotland against our will," Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote on Twitter.

"Before the spin starts, it's worth remembering that Brexit is happening against Scotland's will. And there is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us," she said.

Observers also warned that trade between the two sides could still be disrupted by a huge amount of new paperwork and border checks.

Tony Danker, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the deal "will come as a huge relief to British business at a time when resilience is at an all-time low. But coming so late in the day it is vital that both sides take instant steps to keep trade moving and services flowing while firms adjust."

Danker said companies should immediately study the details when they can, to understand the implications for their companies, customers and clients, adding immediate guidance from government is required across all sectors.

"We need urgent confirmation of grace periods to smooth the cliff edge on everything from data to rules of origin and we need to ensure we keep goods moving across borders," Danker added.

Rajneesh Narula, the John H. Dunning Chair of International Business Regulation at the Henley Business School, University of Reading, agreed. There are difficult months ahead as many large issues are left out of the current deal, which will add uncertainties to the UK-EU future relations, he said.

Meanwhile, the trade deal did little for the service sector, which makes up 80 percent of the British economy.

"Not one word has been said about services. They have kicked that ball further down the road," Narula said.

"It means that everything to do with services, that is to say banking, finance and insurance, and telecoms. These are all issues that will be negotiated in the new saga," Narula added. (1 British pound = 1.35 U.S. dollars)

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