EU: UK's free trade deals could be discussed, but not negotiated

EU: UK's free trade deals could be discussed, but not negotiatedEuropean Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the UK is allowed to discuss trade agreements with other countries as long as it doesn’t formally negotiate with them before it leaves the European Union, according to Bloomberg on Monday.

“There’s nothing in the treaties that prohibits you from discussing trade,” Schinas told reporters in Brussels on Monday. But he reiterated previous remarks that EU countries can’t hold official talks on future deals while still a member.

His comments underscore the delicate balance UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her government face as she prepares to meet President Donald Trump on Friday. The Trump administration will lay the groundwork this week for a trade pact between the U.S. and the UK that would take effect after Britain departs the EU, a White House aide said on condition of anonymity.

With countries in the EU ceding their right to strike trade deals to the Brussels-based Commission, the UK is prohibited from pursuing its own agreements until its withdrawal, scheduled for the first half of 2019. While it’s unclear what sanction the EU would have if the UK breached the rules, any flagrant attempt to strike a free-trade agreement early could make it more difficult for May to get a favorable exit deal from the rest of the bloc.

EU officials have also said that any discussions about a free-trade agreement between the UK and the EU can only take place after Brexit talks. The bloc’s chief negotiator “Michel Barnier and his team have been very clear” that from the moment Britain exits the EU “there will be some sort of transition period” and in that period, trade talks will take place, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in Davos last week.

“When you leave the European Union you leave the trade agreements,” Schinas said.
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