Liam Fox, the Swiss Minister of Economic Affairs Guy Parmelin and the Liechtenstein Foreign Minister shaking handsimage rights
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The UK-Swiss agreement signed in Bern on 11 February also applies to neighboring Liechtenstein

As a member of the European Union, the UK is automatically part of some 40 trade agreements that the EU has with more than 70 countries.

If the UK leaves the EU on 29 March without an agreement, it would immediately lose those trades.

To avoid this, the UK government wants to "replicate" the EU's trade agreements as much as possible and be ready in case of a no-deal Brexit.

Liam Fox, the international secretary of commerce, told MEPs in January last year that the government wanted to achieve "continuity and stability" by ensuring that the UK continued to benefit from these agreements.

How far has progress been made?

Four out of 40

The United Kingdom has so far only reached four agreements. Barry Gardiner, Labson Shadow's international secretary of commerce, said he understands that 19 other deals were "out of gear" and "two are not even negotiated".

In the answer, Mr. Fox said that talks to replicate the remaining agreements will "get on the line".

The 40 deals already involving the UK (through its EU membership) are designed to facilitate trade between the EU and the rest of the world. These regimes include the relaxation of certain rules, the reduction of import taxes (duties) and the facilitation of market access.

The government estimates that about 11% of UK trade depends on EU agreements with 70 countries.

The agreements that the United Kingdom has made are:

  • Switzerland (signed on 11th February)

  • The Faroe Islands (1 February)

  • Eastern and Southern Africa (January 31)

  • Chile (January 30th)

Switzerland

Switzerland is signed last. The Department of International Trade says that trade between the United Kingdom and Switzerland in 2017 had a value of GBP 32.1 billion.

With the agreement between the United Kingdom and Switzerland, confirmed on 11 February in Bern, the vast majority of goods traded between the two countries will continue to avoid customs duties (taxes on goods).

  • Why Switzerland is worried about British trade after Brexit?

Without the agreement, the British government would have claimed that the British auto industry could have had up to 8 million pounds in fees, while aluminum exporters had received up to £ 4 million.

An additional agreement was signed in Bern by the Liechtenstein Foreign Minister Aurelia Frick. The most important parts of the trade agreement between Switzerland and Great Britain also apply to their country.

The Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands are the 114 largest trading partners in the United Kingdom, according to the government. Total trade between the two countries in 2017 was GBP 236 million.

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The United Kingdom imported more than 200 million pounds of fish from the Faroe Islands in 2017

Fish and shellfish accounted for the bulk of British imports from the Faroe Islands in 2017, amounting to £ 201.7 million, while the United Kingdom's total exports to the country were only £ 6 million – mainly machinery and mechanical equipment.

The UK Government says the agreement reached will result in consumers continuing to benefit from greater choice and lower fish prices such as Atlantic salmon, haddock and halibut.

Eastern and Southern Africa and Chile

Trade between the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region amounted to GBP 1.5 billion in 2017 – around 0.1% of total UK trade. The UK-ESA agreement covers Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Zimbabwe.

Meat and fish are the main commodities imported by the United Kingdom from the region (£ 111m).

The trade agreement between the UK and Chile, signed at the end of January, was the first to be hit. Total trade between the UK and Chile amounted to GBP 1.8 billion in 2017.

Fruits, nuts and drinks are the major import goods in the UK. The government says the agreement will help protect parts of the British wine industry.

wine labeling

The United Kingdom has also signed agreements with Australia and New Zealand, but these are "mutual recognition agreements" and not free trade agreements.

The deal replicates all aspects of current EU agreements when it comes to the recognition of product standards, such as the labeling and certification of wine.

Israel

At the World Economic Forum in Davos Liam Fox, the international secretary of commerce, has announced on Twitter that the United Kingdom has "agreed" in principle on a free trade agreement with Israel. He added that a trade conference between the two countries would take place in London in the coming months.

However, it is not possible to extend all 40 deals until March 29, said a minister.

George Hollingbery, a minister in the Department of International Trade, told MEPs last month that some of the EU's trade agreements were "challenging," adding that "one or two" could be "nearly impossible" by the end of the year Year of march.

Turkey was highlighted by Mr Hollingbery as a country where an agreement would be very difficult to reach as it is a customs union with the EU.

The current lack of signed trade agreements does not surprise Alan Winters, director of the University of Sussex UK Trade Policy Observatory.

"You can not just roll everything – these existing agreements contain references to EU law, so you can not avoid some negotiations," he says.

Some countries may also be concerned about signing contracts, as it is unclear what Brexit will ultimately look like, adds Prof Winters.

So what could be the consequence if the trade agreements are not fully completed by 29 March and the UK is not doing business?

With the countries where the United Kingdom does not have a formal trade agreement, both would have to act according to the rules monitored by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

  • Reality Check: What is the WTO option?

Trade would not stop if this happened, but some barriers would increase, says Alex Stojanovic of the Institute for Government's think tank.

"There is a reason why you have trade agreements, they have better trade preferences than WTO rules.

"Some companies are harmed by the introduction of tariffs," he says.

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