First round of Brexit trade talks end with ′serious′ differences, warns Barnier | News | DW | 05.03.2020
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First round of Brexit trade talks end with 'serious' differences, warns Barnier

It took three difficult years before the EU and the UK managed to agree on a Brexit divorce deal. It looks like post-Brexit trade talks between the two might prove just as challenging.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned of "serious divergences" in expectations between the EU and the UK as the first round of post-Brexit trade talks wrapped up on Thursday.

"To be completely frank with you ... there are many divergences, and they are very serious divergences, which is probably quite natural," Barnier said.

Disagreements over ensuring a "level playing field" for businesses, the role of the European Court of Justice and a fisheries agreement were the main sticking points.

The two sides are trying to seal a trade agreement by the end of this year when the UK Brexit transition period expires. After this, the UK will no longer be held to EU laws and regulations.

Barnier remained optimistic despite the disagreements, saying "I think, sincerely, that the agreement is possible — even if difficult."

UK agrees that talks will be 'tough'

The UK government released a statement following the talks, agreeing that negotiations would be "tough." 

"In some areas, there seems to be a degree of common understanding of how to take the talks forward. In other areas, such as fishing, governance, criminal justice and the so-called 'level playing field' issues there are, as expected, significant differences," it added.

Where did the UK and the EU disagree?

Barnier said the UK had previously agreed to a "level playing field" for businesses to prevent unfair competitive advantage and distortion of trade. In these talks, Barnier complained that the UK was unwilling to transfer commitments to this into a common agreement.

Britain's government does not want to be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. But Barnier said it was a "must-have" for Brussels to uphold the role of the EU's top court in interpreting European laws, including the protection of citizens' rights.

The UK also wants to establish a separate agreement on fisheries that would be renewed each year. Barnier said this was "not practicable."

Nevertheless, the EU's trade chief Phil Hogan said on Thursday that the first round of talks had improved the "mood music" between the two sides.

The next round of trade talks are scheduled for London March 18-20.

kmm/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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