The 2020 EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement as a Canada Style Agreement

Abstract 

This paper looks into the question of differentiation in EU foreign policy. Does the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) reached between the EU and the UK in December 2020 fall within a familiar differentiation track? In particular, is it a ‘Canada style’ agreement rather than, say, a ‘Norway style’ agreement? To what extent is it an attempt by the EU to nudge the UK into conformity with EU regulation? Does the agreement show that ‘geography matters’? We shall see that it is most of all a new generation deep trade agreement, like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada. In a typology of international agreements, deep trade agreements have their distinct place. Their features allow parties to build a meaningful partnership while keeping a fair amount of control. This paper points to parallels between the EU-UK TCA and such an agreement. It gives the UK the opportunity to ‘take back control’, leaving it much more freedom than under a Norway style agreement. Its main feature is ‘freedom to legislate’, subject to the maintenance of a level playing field, and human rights protection. At no instance, there is a hard obligation for the UK to accept stricter environmental or sanitary standards on its territory than hitherto (the unique alignment of Northern Ireland having been laid down earlier in the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement). Importantly, the sophisticated dispute settlement provisions of the TCA have a unique feature, namely, that of facilitating divergence between the EU and the UK. The TCA allows the parties to inflict tariffs or to suspend (parts of) the agreement only under specific circumstances. Arguably, these circumstances are uniquely applicable to the TCA.

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Published Jan. 22, 2021 9:58 AM - Last modified June 3, 2021 11:17 AM