Vicky Ford is Conservative MEP for the East of England and Chairs the European Parliament Committee for the Internal Market and Consumer Protection.
This week MEPs will vote on the long awaited EU/Canada trade agreement known as CETA. For those of us who support free and open trade this is a welcome step. But we should be very wary of using it as a template for future UK/EU trade partnerships.
Removing barriers to trade boosts growth, encourages innovation, increases wages and gives consumers greater choices and lower prices. The EU/Canada deal will eliminate over €500 million of tariffs currently placed on European and British exports. But we should hardly be popping celebrating corks if we achieve zero tariffs in a UK/EU trade agreement as today there are already zero tariffs left to cut.
It is much more important to look at the so called “non-tariff barriers” which reflect the bureaucratic red tape faced by companies exporting into other markets and to recognise that the level of ease British companies currently have when selling into other EU markets is much much greater than that which is now offered to Canada in CETA.
When I talk to key sectors of the British economy about what they want to retain from a new UK/EU relationship while tariffs of course remain a concern, it is the non-tariff barriers which are frequently cited as being more important.
For example, car manufacturers want to keep the mutual recognition of vehicle testing so once safety and emissions tests are passed in the UK they don’t need to go and get the same vehicle tested and approved again. Digital entrepreneurs want to retain access to cross-border data flows. Pharma companies wish to continue to seamlessly run cross border clinical trials with a single approval for the new medicines or medical devices that result as well as to enjoy the ability to avoid double testing by having their UK manufacturing facilities certified as compliant with EU standards by UK regulators. The young Irish Occupational Therapist I met working at my local hospital wants to know that her qualifications will continue to be recognised on both sides of the Irish Sea and for our banks it’s important that once they pass regulatory tests in the UK they can market the same mortgages, loans, insurance in other countries without additional requirements.
All of these are covered by the current trade arrangements we have between the UK and the rest of the EU but none of these issues are covered in any detail or with any certainty by the Canada trade deal.
When the Prime Minister spoke about leaving the Single Market she also spoke about retaining elements of cooperation, on a fully reciprocal basis and in the UK and the EU’s mutual interests.
It would be logically possible to include all these specific elements into a UK/EU new trade deal provided there is trust and political goodwill. But if this is to be achieved then both sides will need to recognise that cutting and pasting terms from agreements that the EU has with other parts of the world is not the wisest place to start.