February 28, 2018 / 4:47 PM / 17 days ago

Brexit advances at WTO as Britain sets out new services terms - diplomats

GENEVA (Reuters) - Britain has sent World Trade Organization members a draft of the terms for its trade in services with other countries after Brexit, an important part of its divorce from the European Union, trade diplomats said on Wednesday.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators wave EU and Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain needs to disentangle its WTO membership agreement from the European Union’s, and has yet to draft a similar text for trade in goods, expected to be much more complicated because of the need to share out agricultural import quotas.

Every member of the WTO has its own pair of schedules - one document covering services trade and one covering merchandise trade - which are essentially its membership agreements setting out what it agreed to when it joined the Geneva-based body.

But when the WTO was created in 1995, the EU submitted schedules covering all its members, so Britain’s membership was never spelled out in black and white. Britain’s plan to leave the EU means it needs to get its paperwork in order so that it can negotiate trade deals independently.

Any of the other 163 WTO members could object to Britain’s services schedule if they felt it infringed their rights, but documentation in that area is seen as relatively straightforward because the 23-year-old document is not very restrictive.

Trade Minister Liam Fox told Britain’s parliament last November that his first priority was to secure Britain’s own WTO schedules, before moving onto EU free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries, and then negotiating new FTAs.

But the negotiations over the schedules covering trade in goods got bogged down as soon as Britain announced how it wanted to approach the problem last October, because big agricultural exporters said they would lose out.

Britain wants to “apportion” the EU’s existing low-tariff agricultural import quotas based on trade flows, but its approach was immediately rejected by the United States, Argentina, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, Thailand and Uruguay.

Last week Fox was in Geneva holding talks with all interested parties, but did not resolve the problem, trade diplomats said.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Alison Williams

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