Britain, EU launch high-stakes post-Brexit trade talks

Brussels - By Helen Maguire, - Britain and the European Union launched high-stakes negotiations on their future relationship on Monday, with time pressing and their positions far apart on many key issues.

The two sides have until the end of the year to strike a deal on trade and issues such as security co-operation, before EU rules cease to apply to Britain following its departure from the bloc on January 31.
Britain is threatening to walk away from the negotiations if they fail to deliver significant progress by June. Without a deal, the substantial trade between both sides reverts to basic World Trade Organization rules, imposing tariffs and other barriers.
The talks in Brussels began with an initial discussion on Monday afternoon between the EU's lead Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his British counterpart David Frost.
Around 100 British officials have come to participate in the first round of negotiations, which will cover 11 areas including trade in goods and services, energy and transport co-operation and the thorny issue of mutual access to fishing waters.
The talks are scheduled to last until Thursday, with new rounds expected every three to four weeks, alternating between Brussels and London.
The EU is offering a wide-ranging free trade deal that would avoid any tariffs or quotas, on condition that Britain agrees to so-called level playing field commitments that would stop it from undercutting EU standards in areas such as state subsidies and environmental or labour laws.
London, on the other hand, stresses that the negotiations are about regaining political and economic sovereignty, including the right to set its own rules. Britain also says it has no interest in lowering standards.
Brussels wants to negotiate a single comprehensive deal, while London has proposed several stand-alone accords.
The two sides also differ on issues such as fishing rights - with Brussels making an overall deal contingent on reaching agreement in this area - dispute resolution procedures and the role of the European Court of Justice.

Monday, March 2nd 2020
By Helen Maguire,

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