Britain has long known EU free trade deal needs fair competition - EU adviser
By Huw Jones
LONDON (Reuters) - The European Union flagged to Britain long before it left the bloc that any future free trade deal would have to come with a commitment from London to uphold fair competition, a senior EU adviser said on Wednesday.
Britain left the EU in January with an 11-month, business-as-usual transition period, and will need new trading terms from January 2021 to avoid potential disruption to trade.
Stefaan de Rynck, an adviser to the EU's chief trade negotiator Michel Barnier, said the trade talks would be "rather difficult" - tougher than the negotiations that secured Britain's divorce settlement - because of their broader scope and time limit. So-called "level playing field" clauses on fair competition were also necessary.
"It can be no surprise ... as early as March 2018, the 27 heads of state and governments on the EU side said we are ready to negotiate an ambitious trade relationship with the UK in so far there are robust guarantees on a level playing field," de Rynck told an audience at the London School of Economics.
The political declaration signed by Britain and the bloc in October 2019 alongside their divorce deal stated that a free trade agreement would be "underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition".
"Surely it cannot be rocket science to agree on common standards. Indeed the idea at the heart of the political declaration is having common standards on a level playing field," de Rynck said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Europe adviser David Frost said on Monday that accepting EU supervision of level playing field issues goes against the point of Brexit.
On Wednesday, a British government spokesman said: "There are arrangements for fair and open free trade deals that are proven to work, there is no reason that our proximity to the EU should mean extra restrictions on trade."
Britain has said it wants a Canada-style trade deal with the EU, but de Rynck said EU trade agreements concluded with Japan and Canada have commitments to ensure fair and open competition. They are, however, much softer than what the bloc is seeking from Britain.
"Dover is much closer to Calais than Ottawa is," he said, referring to the main ports connecting Britain and France.
"Proximity matters, distance matters in trade. In terms of getting zero tariff, zero quota access, this brings a lot of benefits to the UK economy and with benefits come obligations.
As the two sides raise the ante ahead of a new round of talks, Britain used the bloc's own 2017 slide laying out different levels of market access Britain could go for after Brexit, including the Canada model.
"Michel Barnier, what's changed?" No.10 Press Office - a UK government account - asked the EU Brexit negotiator on Twitter.
An EU official in Brussels reacted by saying there was "considerable irritation" around what was quickly dubbed as "slidewars".
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alex Richardson)