The WTO Agreements That Would Protect Britain During A No-Deal Brexit

Both the UK and the EU have been keen to avoid a no-deal Brexit since Article 50 was triggered almost three years ago.

A five-page document released by the British Government called ‘reasonable worst-case planning assumptions’ found that such an event could increase border delays, with up to 85 percent of lorries crossing the Channel unlikely to be prepared for a new French customs regime.

According to The Week, the reliance of medical supplies on cross-Channel routes ‘make them particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays’, the report read.

The document also revealed that certain types of fresh food are also likely to be reduced, that fuel shortages could occur and that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could be unavoidable.

However, according to Brexit Central’s Edgar Miller, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has two agreements in place that would prevent both sides from erecting external tariffs if Brussels and London failed to negotiate a free trade deal: the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement.

Established publications such as the Irish Times have reported on comments from the WTO itself that confirm there is nothing in its rules that would force either Britain or the EU to erect a hard Irish border after Brexit. The Geneva-based trade body said it would only intervene in a trade dispute if one of its 164 members made a complaint.

If what this organisation says is true, it is worthwhile examining each of these agreements to see how the UK could fall back on them should they fail to negotiate a trade deal with the EU.

Section 1 of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods. It also clarifies and improves the relevant articles of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994.

During the Tory leadership contest last year, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there would definitely be tariffs if there was a no-deal Brexit. David Henig, director of the U.K. Trade Policy project at the European Center For International Political Economy think tank, also made a similar remark to POLITICO. However, they made these comments before the Withdrawal Agreement was legalised by Westminster.

The British Prime Minister has set a limited time frame of one 11 months to negotiate a trade agreement, which is ambitious considering it took Canada and the EU seven years to draft one similar to what Boris wants.

But if Brussels is keen to preserve tariff-free trade during a no-deal Brexit, it would be in their best interests to implement the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, especially now that there is a Withdrawal Agreement in place and both parties would have come close to implementing a trade deal by December this year. If they need several years to do it, this agreement would provide them with the flexibility to do so this time round.

The WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement would provide Britain with the opportunity to raise a specific trade concern (STC) with the Geneva-based organisation regarding specific laws and regulations that affect trade. As Britain prepares to shift away from EU regulations, a TBT Committee enables countries to discuss either new measures or existing ones.

This country will be recognised as an individual member of the WTO in the long-term as the EU currently represents all its member states, despite the fact they all have their own seats in the organisation. If Brussels intends to erect trade barriers after December, there is no reason why Britain cannot raise its own STC.

If a no-deal Brexit happens in December, there is no reason as to why the scaremongering about this outcome should come true. The Withdrawal Agreement has helped prevent the ‘cliffhanger’ many Remainers feared and the WTO itself has said there is no need for hard borders. The EU is renowned for capitulating at the last minute when it comes to trade deals, so hopefully there will be no need for no-deal anyway.