The UK’s vote to leave the European Union (EU) was widely seen as a rebuke to free trade and globalisation, as was Donald Trump’s protectionist ‘America First’ campaign that led him to the White House.
Article 50, triggered in March, allows 24 months for an exit agreement to be reached. The World Trade Organization (WTO) will now be more important than ever for the UK as there is a potential prospect of ending negotiations with no EU trade deal and having to resort to WTO trading schedules.
Marc Vanheukelen, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the European Union to the WTO, said that the EU was unlikely to agree to a new UK-EU trade deal if the UK aimed to recast itself as a regulation-light ‘Singapore-on-Thames’. The EU27 “don’t want a free-rider on their doorstep.” He also criticised the “have-your-cake-and-eat-it line” given the “major asymmetry” in Brexit negotiations, with almost 44 per cent of UK exports going to the EU, and just 15 per cent being shipped the other way.
Vanheukelen, who has been in his current role since September 2015, will be joining Asia House corporate members for a private briefing. Prior to his posting to Geneva, he was Director in DG TRADE at the European Commission responsible for sustainable development, economic partnership agreements, and agri-food and fisheries. Before this he was Head of Cabinet for (former) EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht.
This event is taking place as part of the Asia House Brexit Series, which examines the implications of Brexit.
In an interview with Asia House, Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the WTO, noted that the UK working under WTO schedules would not be ideal, but would not be an apocalyptic scenario. However, he strongly felt that there had not been enough intensive and open discussion about the issue.
Julian Braithwaite, the UK’s Ambassador and Permanent Representation to the UN and other international organisations including the WTO, briefed Asia House corporate members on the process of establishing independent WTO membership for the UK once it has left the EU earlier this year.