Joint Partnership Council will settle UK-EU trade disputes

How UK-EU trade disputes will be settled: New Joint Partnership Council will be co-chaired by UK minister and EU representative and have power to vote on amendments to deal

  • Mediation body will reportedly be named the Joint Partnership Council 
  • PM: ‘Third party arbitration’ used if UK or EU felt it was being ‘unfairly undercut’ 
  • Honoured Brexit pledge to remove UK from the EU’s legal sphere of influence 

A 1,246-page document today shed light on the makeup of the new Joint Partnership Council – which will resolve any disputes between the UK and EU. 

The council will be co-chaired by a UK minister and an EU representative but it is still unknown how membership of the mediation body will be selected.  

The mysterious body will be set up on January 1 to act as a port of call for any issues between Britain and EU member states. 

Members of the council will have the power to vote on amendments to the Brexit deal in the future, impose tariffs, make sure the trade agreement is adhered to and establish a list of individuals to join an arbitration tribunal.

The mediation body will be set up on January 1 to act as a point of call for any issues between Britain and EU member states. Pictured, Boris Johnson speaking to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen from his desk at Number 10

The council will sit at least once a year alternately in Brussels and the UK. It will have two co-chairs – one from the UK and one from the EU – and a Secretariat will be responsible for all correspondence between the two parties.

The document reads: ‘The Partnership Council shall be co-chaired by a Member of the European Commission and a representative of the Government of the United Kingdom at ministerial level. 

‘It shall meet at the request of the Union or the United Kingdom, and, in any event, at least once a year, and shall set its meeting schedule and its agenda by mutual consent.’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses a media conference on Brexit negotiations at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on December 24

The tribunal will be made up of five experts from the UK, five from the EU and five independent specialists in various fields from outside both jurisdictions. It will rule on matters of disaccord between the EU and Britain.

Its chair will be chosen from the five independent members. 

It is the tribunal that will have the power to agree on imposing tariffs on either the EU or the UK if it is felt one of the parties has failed to follow the terms of the trade deal.  

It means there is no longer a role for the European Court of Justice and the UK is effectively cut off from the union.

The document added: ‘Co-chairs may, by mutual consent, invite experts (i.e. non-government officials) to attend meetings of the Partnership Council in order to provide information on a specific subject and only for the parts of the meeting where such specific subjects are discussed.’

The council will also have various subcommittees to manage different aspects of the treaty.  

Boris Johnson previously said ‘independent third party arbitration’ would be used if either side felt it was being ‘unfairly undercut’ by the other. 

Boris Johnson said that ‘independent third party arbitration’ would be used if either side felt it was being ‘unfairly undercut’ by the other

It a signal of the Prime Minister following through on a commitment of the Brexit campaign to remove Britain from the EU’s legal sphere of influence.

One of the bones of contention in the trade talks was Brussels’ fear that Britain could take advantage of leaving the bloc by lowering standards to make its firms more competitive. 

The EU was also worried that the UK could give more financial help to its own firms. 

As a result, it demanded a ‘level playing field’ to avoid a race to the bottom on issues such as workers’ rights and environmental regulation. 

It also wanted Britain to continue to accept a slew of EU rules.

The UK said this would pose an ‘existential threat’ to its sovereignty. Britain said it would settle for No Deal rather than face being tied to EU rules after Brexit.

Under the deal announced on Christmas Eve there will be zero-tariff, zero-quota access to the EU single market – and Mr Johnson has maintained the ability to diverge from Brussels standards, with no role for the European Court of Justice.

Disputes will be settled by the independent arbitration panel, similar to the structures already in the Withdrawal Agreement and those commonly used in international trade situations. 

In a Downing Street press conference this week, Mr Johnson said: ‘In the context of this giant free trade zone that we’re jointly creating the stimulus of regulatory competition will I think benefit us both.

‘And if one side believes it is somehow being unfairly undercut by the other, then subject to independent third party arbitration and provided the measures are proportionate, we can either of us decide – as sovereign equals – to protect our consumers.   

Under the deal announced on Christmas Eve there will be zero-tariff, zero-quota access to the EU single market – and Mr Johnson has maintained the ability to diverge from Brussels standards, with no role for the European Court of Justice

‘But this treaty explicitly envisages that such action should only happen infrequently and the concepts of uniformity and harmonisation are banished in favour of mutual respect and mutual recognition and free trade.’

A Downing Street spokesman added: ‘The deal is based on international law, not EU law. There is no role for the European Court of Justice and no requirements for the UK to continue following EU law or be forced to keep EU law as it currently stands… 

‘This deal includes a commitment to maintaining high labour, environment and climate standards without giving the EU any say over our rules and includes unique clauses that ensure that [our commitments never restrict our law makers.

‘If the UK exercises its sovereign right to have different rules to the EU, any issues arising will be dealt with fairly by an independent arbitration process with no role for EU judges.’

They added: ‘A formal review of the arrangements can take place after four years. If the UK or EU does not believe the system is working fairly, either side will have the ability to bring the agreement on trade to an end. The UK and EU would then trade on Australian-style terms.’ 

The UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union on December 31, so the rules and regulations on trading everything from car parts to camembert cheese will change. 

In the end, both parties have agreed a common baseline of regulations on some issues, below which neither side will plunge.

However, the EU had also been insisting that if one side raised standards and the other did not, the latter should be penalised if failure to keep up resulted in unfair competition.

Instead the two sides have agreed an independent mechanism to resolve matters if one side diverges too far from common standards. This would ultimately make rulings on retaliatory tariffs in the event of a dispute.

The Government claims it ‘won’ five of the eight key sticking points in this part of negotiations, including EU law, the ability of the UK to set its own subsidy rates, competition and tax rules.

In a ‘scorecard’ it produced before the talks were agreed, it said: 

‘The UK rejected the EU’s asks for an ‘equivalence’ mechanism, and instead secured a review and rebalancing clause which allows either side to initiate a formal review of the economic parts of the deal, including the level playing field provisions, and  update the balance of the agreement over time. 

‘Any short-term rebalancing measures are strictly limited and proportionate and subject to the approval of an independent arbitration panel.’

This was billed as a ‘win’ for the UK. 

Asked at a Brussels press conference how the EU will make sure the UK will stick to its side of the agreement, Ms Von der Leyen said: ‘We have strong measures that can be taken if one party does not play by the rules’

Asked at a Brussels press conference how the EU will make sure the UK will stick to its side of the agreement, Ms Von der Leyen said: ‘We have strong measures that can be taken if one party does not play by the rules. 

‘So starting from re-balancing mechanisms that are built-in with dispute settlement mechanisms, to review clauses and overall review for example, after four years, to see whether both sides played by the rules, that the level playing field is level indeed. And there is the commitment to follow whatever has been agreed in this deal.

‘So from the experience we have had we built in safeguards that are necessary to make sure there is a strong incentive for both sides to stick to what they have agreed to.’    

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