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19 April 2018

Jim Rollo is Deputy Director of UKTPO, Emeritus Professor of European Economics at the University of Sussex and Associate Fellow, Chatham House. Dr Peter Holmes Reader in Economics at the University of Sussex and Fellow of the UKTPO.

On Wednesday this week, the House of Lords voted that after Brexit a customs union with the EU should not be ruled out. If it remains in the legislation, it would require the government to submit a report to Parliament on the Customs Union option. This blog discusses some of the key issues that would need to be considered in such a report.

What is a Customs Union?

A customs union under GATT Art XXIV is an agreement under which partners commit to removing all duties on products originating in each other’s territory and having a common external tariff. This might imply a common collection of customs duties but in some cases (e.g. MERCOSUR) this was not initially done. Customs unions under GATT XXIV cover goods but not services.

A formal customs union may still require border checks, including for tax (esp VAT or other sales tax purposes), technical standards, transport (e.g. cabotage).

A Customs Union with the EU versus membership of The EU Customs Union

We need to remember the difference between being in the European Union Customs Union which only is possible for Members States and territories that are effectively part of a member state (eg Jersey, Monaco) versus having a customs union with the EU, eg Turkey but also San Marino. Even a complete customs union does not by itself achieve frictionless trade amongst signatories.  This is because only a customs union combined with elements of the Single Market would obviate the need for border inspections, although a customs union would go some way towards reducing border formalities.  At the same time, countries that sign up to a ‘complete’ customs union forgo the ability to set their own external trade policy regime.

A UK-EU customs union

The key decision on a UK-EU customs union would be how complete it would be. GATT Art XXIV requires “substantially all trade” to be covered. This is generally taken to mean about 90% of trade but WTO recognised customs unions often are seriously incomplete. EU Turkey does not cover agriculture and allows anti-dumping duties to be imposed between the two parties. Nor is Turkey included automatically in EU Free Trade Agreements.

Issues to be decided in any UK-EU customs union

Would it include agriculture and fisheries? If not Rules of Origin will be required for excluded sectors and costs of compliance and delay will be incurred.

Would Anti-dumping duties be harmonised? If not, borders are needed; if so WTO compatibility issues arise.

How would trade with third countries be addressed? Turkey is not automatically included in EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs): wherever there is an exception the CET is necessarily incomplete.

How is tariff revenue shared? Turkey and the EU do not share revenue. East African Community and Southern African Customs Union do. MERCOSUR now shares revenue but previously did not. This is not an issue for FTAs.

Implications for Northern Ireland

A comprehensive customs union including agriculture is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to ensure the absence of hard customs facilities and solve the border issue in Northern Ireland.

Single market participation is needed to avoid technical inspections and tax issues would also have to be dealt with.

April 19th, 2018

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29 March 2018

Dr Ingo Borchert is Senior Lecturer in Economics and a fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory and Julia Magntorn is Research Assistant in Economics at the Observatory.

With one year to go until the UK will leave the European Union (EU), sorting out Britain’s trade relation with the EU is the most important task.  Yet the design of the future UK-EU agreement has implications for trade policy towards non-EU countries.  On account of this, the British Prime Minister in her Mansion House speech ruled out forming a new customs union with the EU because this “would not be compatible with a meaningful independent trade policy.”  Indeed, having sovereignty over its external trade policy post-Brexit has been at the forefront of the UK’s negotiation agenda, and consequently, the provision in the current draft Withdrawal Agreement that the UK may commence Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations with other countries during the transition period was perceived as an important concession won. (more…)

March 29th, 2018

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image of Ilona26 March 2018

Ilona Serwicka is Research Fellow in the economics of Brexit at the UKTPO

The UK economy will be worse off after Brexit regardless of the terms of departure from the EU: this is (with a small number of exceptions) a consensus reached by previous analyses of the impact of Brexit. Anything that differs from the status quo of EU membership – ranging from a ‘soft’ Brexit that involves staying within the Customs Union and/or the Single Market to a ‘hard’ scenario of leaving the EU with no deal – will hurt growth prospects for the UK economy. (more…)

March 26th, 2018

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Image of Alan Winters22 March 2018

Julia Magntorn is Research Assistant in Economics at the UKTPO and L. Alan Winters CB is Professor of Economics and Director of the Observatory.

The European Union is likely to reject a significantly enhanced version of its Canada trade deal for the UK after Brexit.

Our in-depth analysis of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada concludes that the EU’s commitment to the Single Market is so deeply ingrained that a substantial loosening of the rules for the UK would be politically impossible.

The EU may agree to some exceptions but these would fall far short of a bespoke deal and would be a poor substitute for the Single Market, say the report’s authors Julia Magntorn and L. Alan Winters. (more…)

March 22nd, 2018

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2 March 2018

Alasdair Smith is an Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex, and is a member of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.

The European Commission has this week published its controversial draft of the withdrawal treaty for the UK’s exit from the EU. The draft includes the EU’s proposal for dealing with the issue of the border in Ireland – Northern Ireland to remain in a customs union with the EU and to retain all the elements of the Single Market that support free movement of goods. (more…)

March 2nd, 2018

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2 March 2018

Dr Michael Gasiorek is Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Sussex and Director and  Managing Director of InterAnalysis respectively. He is a Fellow of the UKTPO.

There is much talk about the UK not being able to “cherry-pick” and “have its cake and eat it” with regards to post-Brexit trade policy with the EU. There are a couple of issues here. First, all EU agreements are different and hence by definition bespoke. Cherries are picked by both sides. This will also be true of a future UK-EU agreement. The question, therefore, really is to do with the extent to which the EU will grant the UK a bespoke deal in serious and substantive ways. The second issue is that it is far from clear that the UK government currently knows what all the ingredients are and what the recipe is for the cake it is hoping to share with the EU. (more…)

March 2nd, 2018

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Michael Gasiorek23 February 2018

Dr Michael Gasiorek is Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Sussex and Director and  Managing Director of InterAnalysis respectively. He is a Fellow of the UKTPO.

Before and since the Brexit referendum there have been numerous criticisms made of economic models, of the views of ‘experts’ and the supposed inaccuracy of their forecasts.[1] But these critiques are mostly based on misunderstandings, so, as an economist and long-time modeller, I want to explain the value – and the limitations – of modelling.  Models are indeed extremely useful and should be used to help inform public policy – but you need to use them appropriately.

Myth buster: “Models are not designed to provide accurate predictions / forecasts of future reality”. (more…)

February 23rd, 2018

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22 February 2018

Alasdair Smith is an Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex, and is a Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.

This week  Economists for Free Trade (EfFT) suggested that if the post-Brexit UK were to embrace unilateral free trade (UFT), the net effect of Brexit would be positive rather than negative. Earlier work on unilateral free trade has focused exclusively or largely on tariff reductions – and this latest paper has the merit of recognising that border costs and non-tariff measures (NTMs) should be brought into the analysis. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Portes and Chris Giles have observed, the EfFT assumptions are not credible.[1] (more…)

February 22nd, 2018

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15 February 2018

Rob Amos, Research Fellow in Law, Sussex Sustainability Research Programme, University of Sussex. Rob is conducting a project on Sustainable Trade Post-Brexit in collaboration with the UK Trade Policy Observatory.

As the UK begins to devise its independent trade policy, it is essential that any new trade agreements it negotiates are subject to Parliamentary, as well as public, oversight and scrutiny. To facilitate such oversight, the UK should undertake Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) for these agreements. If the UK is serious about sustainable development, it must ensure that any future trade agreements do not negatively impact the environment and communities either at home or abroad. (more…)

February 15th, 2018

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Image of Alasdair SmithMichael Gasiorek6 February 2018

Alasdair Smith is an Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex, Dr Michael Gasiorek is Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Sussex and Director and Managing Director of InterAnalysis, Ilona Serwicka is Research Fellow in the Economics of Brexit. All are Fellows of the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO).

How would different versions of Brexit affect the UK economy? Are some parts of the economy likely to be affected more than others? Will trade deals with the rest of the world make up for any loss of UK access to EU markets? These are highly topical questions this week as the UK Cabinet’s Brexit committee makes important decisions about its objectives in the next stage of the Brexit negotiations.

They are the questions we seek to address in our new Briefing Paper ‘Which Manufacturing Sectors are Most Vulnerable to Brexit?’, published today. As it says on the tin, we answer them only for the manufacturing sectors; and in doing so we take a very disaggregated approach to UK manufacturing. (more…)

February 6th, 2018

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