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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

Posted In: UK - Non EU, UK- EU

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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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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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16 January 2018

Dr Peter Holmes Reader in Economics at the University of Sussex and Fellow of the UKTPO. Nick Jacob is a PhD Candidate in Economics at the University of Sussex.

The need for UK firms to comply with detailed Rules of Origin in a possible post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement with the EU has been widely reported. But the different procedures which firms could use to prove their compliance — and the costs to firms in time and money — have been mostly overlooked. (more…)

January 15th, 2018

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Photo of Emily Lydgate7 December 2017

Dr Emily Lydgate is a lecturer in Law at the University of Sussex and a fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.

How can the UK uphold its commitment to leaving the EU Single Market and Customs Union while also preserving the invisible intra-Irish border? Leaving aside crucial questions of political feasibility, this post looks at some of the options and their trade and border implications. Notably, there are limits to ‘flexible and creative’ solutions that involve turning a blind eye to customs and regulatory checks solely on the intra-Irish border: trade rules leave little room for such ad hoc approaches. (more…)

December 7th, 2017

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17 October 2017

Steve McGuire is Professor of Business and Public Policy and Head of the School of Business, Management and Economics at the University of Sussex. He is a Fellow of the UKTPO.

Bombardier has found an elegant solution to its trade problems with the United States: sell a controlling stake in the programme to a company with deeper pockets to defend itself – and with a US production base immune, by definition, from US tariffs. (more…)

October 17th, 2017

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17 October 2017

Lower-income households would be disproportionately affected should the UK revert to WTO tariffs

Exiting the EU without a trade deal and reverting to WTO ‘most-favoured nation’ (MFN) tariffs with the EU would lead to significant price rises across a range of goods, with low-income households facing the biggest cost pressures. This is according to a new joint-report published by the Resolution Foundation and the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex. (more…)

October 17th, 2017

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27 September 2017

Steve McGuire is Professor of Business and Public Policy and Head of the School of Business, Management and Economics at the University of Sussex. He is a Fellow of the UKTPO.

As Bombardier is bombarded with a 220% tariff increase on exports to the US, the UK needs to wise up. There are two key points from the Boeing-Bombardier dispute that have implications for Brexit. First, leaving the European Union will not affect the sovereignty that national governments already have to dish out state aid for key industries. This will not change. Second, and this is the critical point, trade is bound up in broader political calculations. (more…)

September 27th, 2017

Posted In: UK - Non EU, UK- EU

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