Trade talks end in further stalemate

June 16th, 2020 8:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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THE fourth round of (virtual) negotiations between the EU and UK ended in stalemate on June 5th, with EU negotiator Michel Barnier saying that London was ‘backtracking’ on what was agreed in the Political Declaration.

The next round of talks is set to take place towards the end of June or early July, while a high-level conference is slated before the end of June. There was ‘no substantial progress’ in the latest round of bilateral talks on the future relationship between the EU and UK earlier this month (June 2nd to 5th).

Speaking with reporters, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said ‘my responsibility is to tell you the truth.’ The UK had not shown ‘any real willingness’ to move on fisheries,’ while ‘we didn’t make any real progress’ on the level playing field, the French politician outlined.

And, on the last of what he identified as the areas in which movement was really needed, police and judicial co-operation, ‘important questions’ remained: ‘We are asking for nothing more than what is in the Political Declaration,’ the former Agriculture Minister (2007-2009) stressed.

‘There has been no substantial progress since the beginning of these negotiations,’ he said. ‘We cannot continue like this forever, especially given the UK’s continued refusal to extend the transition period.’ The EU’s ‘door remains open’ to a prolongation, he told reporters.

Without an extension, the UK would leave the Single Market and Customs Union in less than seven months. Given the time needed to ratify a deal, ‘we would need a full legal text by October 31st at the latest, i.e. in less than five months,’ Barnier added. He reminded the listening press that the Political Agreement had been agreed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and was ‘available in all languages, including English. It is a good read, if I may say so,’ the 69-year-old quipped.

The former Internal Market Commissioner (2010-2014) complained that ‘round after round, our British counterparts seek to distance themselves from this common basis.’ Johnson had signed up to the level playing field. He had agreed to high standards on State aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, & relevant tax matters.

‘We are today very far from this objective,’ the veteran politician concluded.

WTO top job

Meanwhile, Kilkenny man Phil Hogan has set his sights on the top trade job at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If ‘Big Phil’ lands the plum number in Geneva, it would be a massive coup for Ireland, with ramifications on the political stage back home.

The EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan is ‘exploring’ the idea of throwing his hat in the ring for the post of Director General at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If the sitting EU Trade chief, viewed as one of the most senior figures in the von der Leyen administration, decides to seek a formal nomination to replace Roberto Azevêdo, who stepped down from the post in May, one year ahead of schedule, Dublin would, no doubt, back the Kilkenny man.

In such an event, Hogan would have to take unpaid leave from his current position during the campaign and interview process, but the door would remain open should things not work out with the top WTO post. If the Tullaroan man were to land the plum number in Geneva, rumours suggest An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would up sticks and head for Brussels, as government formation talks enter a crucial stage back home.

In the event of an early departure, a reshuffle would be on the cards at College level, with Ireland likely to lose the coveted Trade portfolio. The Fine Gael politician, who turns 60 years of age on July 4th, is experienced and well-respected, with a proven track record on international trade and well-honed negotiating skills, as were displayed during his previous tenure as EU Farm chief (2014-2019) with the likes of Japan, Mercosur and Mexico.

In terms of the procedure, interested candidates can submit their nominations from June 8th until July 8th, New Zealand’s David Walker, chair of the WTO’s General Council, confirmed last month. It remains to be seen if Hogan’s first-mover advantage will dissuade other European hopefuls from applying for the top job at No 154, Rue de Lausanne.

• Rose O’Donovan is editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS.

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