EU General Affairs Council likely to adopt a mandate for UK negotiations

The General Affairs Council (GAC), a sub-committee of the European Council, meets today in Brussels to approve a negotiations mandate

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Photo: ICE

The General Affairs Council (GAC), a sub-committee of the European Council, meets today in Brussels to approve a negotiations mandate for the upcoming post-Brexit trade deal talks in early March.

The meeting comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to discuss his government’s official negotiating stance with his cabinet today. Johnson has already signaled that he will push for a Canada-style free trade agreement (also known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) in which the UK could pursue its own regulatory policy and trade deals with other countries while ensuring minimal trade barriers for UK-EU trade.

However, considering the UK’s proximity to the continent, the EU would prefer to maintain a “level playing field” between the two economies, in which the UK aligns its trade regulations with the bloc. This is intended to ensure that environmental, labour and product quality standards remain consistent.

Expect the GAC to reiterate this position in its mandate, which it hopes the Council will sign on March 1, two days before negotiations formally begin on the March 3. Even if Brussels and London are intent on striking a hard bargain, they are also conscious of the mutual economic harm that would result from Brexit without a trade deal. Thus, as with the withdrawal negotiations last October, it is likely that both sides will make significant concessions in order to avoid this outcome. But, until time starts running out later in the year, expect both sides to continue posturing.

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