26 Nov

'FTA ‘in doubt’ if no UK deadline on Customs exit, says Birmingham' by Primrose Riordan, The Australian

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has warned British Prime Minister Theresa May that not putting a deadline on exiting the Customs union could be an ­obstacle to signing a free-trade agreement with Australia.

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, and on Thursday Mrs May announced that Britain and the EU had agreed on a draft text that would keep Britain fairly close economically to the European market.

Under the draft, if Britain and the EU haven’t struck a new free-trade deal by the end of 2020, then the transition period, where Britain remains inside the Customs union with the EU, can be extended by up to two years.

The Coalition has previously said a trade deal would be possible only if Britain left the EU Customs union.

Senator Birmingham suggested the inclusion of this vague timeline in the new UK-EU deal was not in Australia’s interest, and Canberra wanted more certainty over when Britain would be outside the Customs union.

“If there were to be a large degree of doubt (over) when a next step were to be taken, whether that’s in 2020 or at some other point, then that might become an irritant in FTA negotiations on both sides of the channel because it may raise unknown questions about when such an FTA could fully come into effect,” he said.

“The decision as to whether the UK and the EU remain in the Customs Agreement indefinitely by 2020 is really a matter for them.

“Australia’s view would be that everybody would be best served by having as much certainty as early as possible in terms of future ­arrangements.”

There has been major political uncertainty in Britain because of a brawl inside Mrs May’s party between hardline Brexit supporters and those who want a closer economic relationship in the EU, sparking fears of a “no-deal” Brexit where Britain drops out the EU without clear rules.

Senator Birmingham said such a situation would be a concern: “Australia would prefer to see a negotiated Brexit because that would provide far greater stability to fin­ancial markets and economic growth”.


by Primrose Riordan, The Australian. Click here to read original article. 

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