May 19th 2020 was a busy day for UK trade lawyers. First of all, the UK published a draft UK-EU Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. In addition, it published drafts of agreements with the EU on topics including fisheries, transport, civil aviation, energy, social security, civil nuclear matters and law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. The drafts are available here.
The policy choices that the UK has made are bound to attract interest. Nuisance tariffs have been abolished. Tariffs have been banded and rounded down to the nearest multiples of 2, 5 and 10 depending on their level.
Other features of the tariff are the simplification of agricultural duties, the liberalisation of tariffs on key production inputs, the reduction to zero of some tariffs on goods in respect of which the UK has no or limited production and the reduction of tariffs on account of certain environmental factors.
Traders in a wide variety of products may find something to welcome when they look at the specific duties they must pay. Products varying from pistachios to turbine parts, cotton yarn to bicycle parts and many more are affected.
Not everyone, though, will be so pleased. Tariffs are to be retained on a range of significant products such as beef, lamb and vehicles, as well as in categories such as ceramics, chemicals and clothing. The exporters and UK importers of Irish beef may look at the 16% duty on beef with less than enthusiasm. The fact that the EU duty is 16.6% is not much comfort given that no duty is payable at the moment. EU manufacturers of motor-cars faced with a 10% duty will also be taking note of developments.
The whole point of the UK’s tariff is that it reflects the national interest. The issues which the UK tariff raises for EU producers have, at least in general, been long anticipated. The publication of the tariff now gives everyone time to prepare for a new “no deal” world.
Publication of the tariff now is also, no doubt, intended to influence the negotiations for a new UK/EU trade agreement. The UK’s view of the present state of play can be seen from another document published on May 19th 2020. It is a letter from the UK’s Sherpa and EU Adviser to M. Barnier. In it he says that “what is on offer is not a fair free trade relationship between close economic partners”.
In some sports the players say that timing is almost everything. Perhaps trade negotiators believe the same.