Financial Times: Britain clears trade hurdle ahead of Brexit

27 November 2018

British trade officials said that the WTO members had given their “provisional” support to the UK’s continued membership of the Government Procurement Agreement, a 47-country deal that opens up nations’ public contracts to foreign bidders.

[...]One official said that Tuesday’s meeting at the WTO had made clear that “nobody wants the UK to go crashing out”.

At present Britain takes part in the GPA by virtue of its membership of the EU. Securing the UK’s continued participation in the pact has been a priority for British officials in Geneva, not least because of the highly competitive UK services industry, which is anxious not to lose out on contracts in other countries.

The trade official said that governments agreed that the WTO should now prepare a draft decision paving the way for Britain to join the GPA as a standalone member.

The breakthrough — the product of intensive diplomatic efforts — comes despite objections raised last month by countries including the US, New Zealand and Moldova.

However the UK faces other hurdles at the organisation, as it seeks to untie itself from the EU’s common commercial policy ahead of its scheduled departure from the bloc on March 29 next year.

More than 20 countries including the US, Brazil and China have objected to joint EU-UK plans for splitting up sensitive import quotas for agricultural products after Brexit, claiming that the proposals would reduce flexibility for their exporters.

British and EU officials complain that the dispute is an example of how other trade powers are seeking to use Brexit to exert their leverage.

Negotiations are also proceeding slowly on the general market access the UK will give other WTO members once it is outside the EU. [...]

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