Oliver Mangan: Long road to clinching Brexit free trade deal

Oliver Mangan: Long road to clinching Brexit free trade deal
Picture: PA Wire

The UK’s departure from the EU last Friday was a tame enough affair in the end.

The 11-month transition period to the end of 2020 that now follows means that the impact of what is a momentous event will not be felt until next year and beyond.

For 2020, nothing really changes, so those trading with the UK can carry on as before.

It is still very unclear what Brexit will mean for the UK and by association economies like Ireland, with which it has a close economic and trading relationship.

The negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and EU that are to take place this year will determine the true nature and impact of Brexit, especially in regard to trade.

Markets seems relaxed about the outcome of these talks.

The recent strength and stability of sterling, as well as the gains made by UK stocks in the past few months, point to expectations of a benign outcome to the negotiations, with little damage to the economy from Brexit.

The EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan, on the other hand, is not so relaxed, warning last week that a crash-out Brexit was still a possibility at the end of December and that people need to wake up to that reality.

He warned against complacency, saying it does not seem to be widely appreciated we are starting the most difficult part of the Brexit process.

The view of the EU is that it will be virtually impossible to negotiate a full comprehensive trade deal with the UK in less than a year.

The UK government, though, wants accelerated talks and has ruled out an extension to the transition period beyond the end of this year, saying a deal can be done within this timeframe.

The EU and UK have very different views on what a trade deal will look like. The EU is insistent on a level playing field for trade, with close regulatory alignment and no regulatory dumping.

The UK is clear that it will no longer be an EU rule taker and there will not be regulatory alignment, with its chancellor telling businesses to adjust to a future where Britain no longer adheres to EU rules and regulations.

A Canadian-style free trade agreement has been mentioned as a possible compromise.

Tariffs do not apply on most goods, but some tariffs and quotas have remained, most notably on agricultural products.

Oliver Mangan: Long road to clinching Brexit free trade deal

Canada has access to only some parts of the EU Single Market in services. Most notably, financial services are not included, which would be a big drawback for the UK.

Trade in goods between the EU and Canada is also still bound by Rules of Origin — ie, a sufficient proportion of the product must originate in Canada to qualify for zero, or low, EU tariffs.

Complying with these rules can be a major additional cost for firms and it could pose significant problems for the UK car industry in particular.

Most Canadian products must also comply with EU regulations.

In effect, the UK would be swapping fewer obligations and more autonomy for less market access.

As a result, the UK could well find itself with more limited access to EU markets in 2021, with Irish and other EU countries’ access to the UK market also facing restrictions.

While not a full hard Brexit, trading with the UK will become much more difficult and costly, with negative economic consequences.

Oliver Mangan is chief economist at AIB

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