BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain and its European Union partners have agreed to ask the other members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to maintain the current level of quotas for farm produce after Brexit, EU sources said on Tuesday.
Since negotiations began in June between London and Brussels on how to extract Britain from the bloc in March 2019, the two sides have been working to establish a common approach to dividing up their relationship with other members of the WTO, as at present all 28 EU states are represented as a single bloc.
The sources said that the other 27 EU members would discuss this week what was described as a “very preliminary” agreement with Britain. The British economy accounts for about 16 percent of the EU economy but its share of EU imports from other WTO countries at preferential tariffs varies according to products.
It remains to be seen what those other WTO members will say to the European proposals. Even before Brexit, some were looking at possible changes in their trading terms with the EU as the Union has added new members since some such deals were struck.
“We have to see if other WTO states agree,” one EU diplomat said, adding that it would take time to reach agreement at the WTO.
No official comment was immediately available from the European Commission or the British government.
Neither the remaining EU states nor Britain want to have to accept greater quantities of low- or zero-duty farm imports from the rest of the world to avoid increasing competition for their own producers. But determining where such goods currently end up being consumed inside the EU customs union is problematic.
Britain will leave the EU in 18 months but Prime Minister Theresa May asked last month for a transition period of about two years to help smooth its departure, during which it would remain in the EU single market and customs union. That may give more time to reach final agreements with other WTO countries.
May also wants a close free trade agreement with the EU, though the bloc is holding off starting negotiations until London agrees basic divorce terms. Discussions on the WTO quotas are not technically part of direct Brexit negotiations.
The Financial Times, which first reported the deal, quoted a letter from EU and British negotiators to the other 27 EU governments as saying: “The EU and the UK intend to maintain the existing levels of market access available to other WTO members.
“Both the UK and the EU would look to reassure our WTO partners that we will strive to minimize disruption.”
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Gareth Jones