UK agrees WTO procurement membership post-Brexit

File photo. Britain's Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox arrives at Downing Street for political cabinet in London, Britain 29 January 2019. [Neil Hall/EPA/EFE]

The UK agreed its first major post-Brexit trade pact on Wednesday (27 February) when the World Trade Organisation confirmed that the UK will join the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) as an independent member if it leaves the EU without a Brexit agreement.

Trade diplomats had agreed in principle in November to allow the UK to continue to access the £1.3 trillion a year market in government procurement contracts post-Brexit, but the move is still an important step for the UK. The UK will remain a member under EU schedules until December 2020 if it agrees a Withdrawal Agreement with the bloc.

In return, overseas firms will be able to bid for £67 billion worth of public sector contracts in the UK.

The 47 countries who are members of the GPA include the 27 remaining EU member states as well as the likes of the United States, Canada and Japan.

“Today’s decision underlines our determination to minimise any disruption, however we leave the European Union,” said Britain’s Ambassador to the WTO, Julian Braithwaite.

The deal is a welcome piece of good news for Theresa May’s government, which admitted on Tuesday that its preparations for a ‘no deal’ Brexit were well off-track.

The paper by the Department for Exiting the EU stated that there was “little evidence that businesses are preparing in earnest for a no deal scenario.”

“The short time remaining before 29 March 2019 does not allow Government to unilaterally mitigate the effects of no deal,” the paper added.

Nor has the May government made good progress in rolling over roughly 40 trade agreements between the EU and third countries, which it wants to have in place before opening its own talks for future trade pacts.

Last week, its International Trade department admitted that a number of trade deals between the EU and third countries, including those with Japan and Turkey, which it has been seeking to roll-over in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario, would not be in place by 29 March.

UK MPs will vote again on whether to accept the Withdrawal Agreement on 12 March. If it is rejected again, lawmakers will have the opportunity to vote for a ‘no deal’ Brexit on the 13 March or to request a ‘short-term’ extension to the Article 50 process the following day.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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