The U.K. will ask every country with which it currently has a trade deal as a member of the EU to adopt the same terms with it as it transitions out of the bloc after March 2019.
In an attempt to smooth Brexit, London will seek to convince dozens of trading partners with which the EU currently has free-trade deals to give it the same level of trade access for a limited amount of time as it negotiates its future trading relationship with the EU, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday.
Only after the U.K. fully sets sail from the EU will London attempt to forge more bespoke trade deals with the likes of South Korea and Switzerland, she added.
“When we leave the EU there are a number of trade deals the EU has with other countries and we are looking at the possibility of those being able to be brought over into certainly initial trade deals with the United Kingdom,” May said onboard a Royal Air Force Voyager aircraft. May is traveling to Japan for a three-day trip to hold talks on security and trade matters with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.
“That will give business certainty, which is what business wants,” May said.
The prime minister’s remarks came as Britain and the EU participate in the third round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels. Talks on the U.K.’s future trade relationship with the bloc won’t be held until London makes “sufficient progress” on settling its exit bill and making sure the rights of EU citizens residing in Britain are protected.
To what extent May’s plan to co-opt EU trade terms will work remains to be seen. For one, the share of the U.K.’s import quota on sensitive items such as lamb and milk will have to be carved out of the EU’s trade deals and then re-applied to the U.K., which Britain’s trading partners would have to agree to.
“It’s not a slam dunk,” said Peter Chase, a senior research fellow at the German Marshall Fund to the United States in Brussels, referring to the prospect of transferring the EU’s trade deals over to the U.K.
Britain will make its first attempt to make the plan a reality in Japan this week, where May will seek assurances from Abe that the recently signed EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement can be applied to the U.K. after Brexit.
The U.K. wants the EU to finalize its deal with Japan before Britain leaves the bloc, to ensure immediate continuity after March, 2019. But to do this, the EU and Japan must first agree on key issues surrounding investor protection and data flows.
“We will continue to press the EU to move forward on the Japan deal, which of course they have made some initial steps on but there is a way to go,” May said.
Trade officials in the U.K. are also paying particular attention to rolling over the EU’s trade deals with the likes of South Korea and Switzerland, which make up the lion’s share of the value stemming from the EU’s roughly 40 trade deals around the world.
“I think what Japanese businesses and other businesses have asked us to look at is this issue of the certainty going forward and not having a ‘cliff edge,’” May said, adding that Britain wants “as smooth as possible process of withdrawal from the European Union so that we don’t disrupt economies.”