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Brexit: Trade talks ‘have reached critical stage’

The UK government has said talks with the EU on reaching a post-Brexit trade deal have reached a “critical stage”.

With time running out, the two sides are still arguing over fishing rights and business competition rules.

UK Prime Minister and European Commission President are due to discuss the state of the negotiations in Brussels by telephone.

The EU mood was described as “gloomy”, while the UK said it was still “working to get” an agreement in place. If a deal is not reached and ratified by 31 December, the UK and EU could introduce import charges on each other’s goods.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart Lord Frost are still locked in talks.

Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt told the House of Commons: “We are at a critical moment in the negotiations.” She added: “We are all working to get a deal, but the only way that’s possible is if it’s compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our country’s trade and waters.”

The UK was prepared to walk away from negotiations if the EU could not “find compromises”, Ms Mordaunt said.

Asked when the cut-off point for a deal was, a European Commission spokesman said: “We are not going to speculate on a last-chance date. “We are fully committed to substantial negotiations. We’ve always said and continue to say it’s the substance that prevails over timing.”


Britain’s little ports caught in a Brexit storm

As Britain gets ready to chart its own course outside the EU, the country’s tiny ports are spooked.

Some of the U.K.’s smallest ports and airstrips are, for the first time in decades, readying themselves for customs declarations as the Brexit transition ends. From the end of the country’s toes to some of its northernmost islands, small outfits are braced for enormous changes to the way they do business and many feel unprepared.

Often with only a few hands, including volunteers, these organizations are now empowered by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to oversee fresh hurdles with imports and exports.

Of the five who spoke to POLITICO, all felt unprepared and summed up the guidance they’d received from HMRC as one or two calls with a follow-up email pointing them to a government guide known as the Border Operating Model (BOM), intended to help them navigate new red tape covering trade with the EU irrespective of whether or not a Brexit deal is agreed.

“I just asked: What forms do I need to fill out? How do I comply with all this?” said one port operator. He has two colleagues, one of whom offers part-time support if he’s ill and the other who acts as harbor master, responsible for ensuring traffic is safely managed in and out of the port. The caller from HMRC couldn’t answer his questions and referred him back to the BOM document. So he called other ports in the region and “try to puzzle it out.”

Many such ports also operate with a handful of staff, few if any of whom are familiar with customs procedures as their trade has largely focused on EU partners in recent years. This skeleton crew may also lack access to on-site storage space, making it hard to ensure they’ve gone through all the correct procedures before goods are loaded onto lorries and removed from the port.

There’s also the issue of more domestic freight traveling through smaller ports as companies seek to reshape their supply chains away from larger ports or road routes that might become congested. These issues combine to increase the risk of smuggling or unintentional illegality, port operators and officials fear.


Middle East

Dubai Customs offers 80% discount on fines

The Dubai Customs has launched an initiative offering 80 per cent discount on fines in customs cases and violations detected or committed before March 31. The move is part of the economic stimulus package announced by the Government of Dubai to alleviate the burden on businesses and help them navigate the challenges of Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision applies to uncollected customs fines imposed by a judicial judgment as well as the customs fines that have been paid in instalments, where reduction will apply to the remaining instalments, which will be rescheduled. The cases under execution at Dubai Courts will also benefit from the applicable fine reduction on the remaining payable amounts.

To avail of these fine reductions, businesses and individuals should first settle their customs cases and pay any charges due, including customs duties resulting from the case, if due, before December 31, 2021.

“The latest move will give a new impetus to the government’s stimulus package measures towards easing the impact of Covid-19 circumstances on the national economy and ensuring uninterrupted business continuity,” said Ahmed Mahboob Musabih, Director-General of Dubai Customs.




European Commission reports on negotiating round with five Eastern and Southern African countries

As part of its transparency commitment, the European Commission published the report summarizing progress made during the latest negotiation round to deepen the existing Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with five Eastern and Southern African partners (Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe).

The third round of negotiations was held virtually from 24 to 27 November 2020. The partners made progress on the five issues already discussed in the first two rounds, namely customs and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, food safety and plant and animal health standards, rules of origin and agriculture. A first text-based discussion also took place on trade and sustainable development, including a presentation by the European Commission of a new article on Trade and Gender Equality.

The next round is foreseen for April 2021 (exact dates to be confirmed).

[European Commission]

UK and Egypt sign Association Agreement

The British Ambassador to Egypt, Sir Geoffrey Adams, signed an agreement with Egypt’s Assistant Foreign Minister for Europe, Badr Abdelatty to strengthen political and trade ties between the two countries.

The agreement will allow British businesses and consumers to benefit from continued preferential access to the market after the end of the transition period – which will help boost vital trade and investment.

In addition to securing trade, the agreement provides a framework for cooperation and further development of political, economic, social and cultural links. The UK is committed to strengthening its relationship with Egypt and building co-operation on important issues including education, the environment and human rights.

The agreement will provide tariff-free trade on industrial products, as well as liberalization of trade in agriculture, agri-foods and fisheries which will make trade easier and deliver significant savings to businesses in both the UK and Egypt.

Total trade on goods and services between the UK and Egypt was worth £3.5 billion in 2019, which the UK will seek to expand.

[UK Government]