BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European lawmakers said on Friday time was running out to put in place any new trade agreement between London and the European Union before the end of an 11-month transition period following Britain’s departure from the bloc.
Britain formally left the EU last January but has been following the bloc’s rules since then as the two sides try to agree on their future trade relationship.
The transition period ends on Dec. 31 but negotiators are still trying to reach an agreement to protect nearly a trillion dollars in annual trade from possible quotas and tariffs.
Chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost will resume talks in London on Sunday, but remain divided on the three most contentious issues — corporate fair play, fishing rights and the settling of disputes.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will call British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday afternoon to discuss the state of negotiations, a spokesman for the head of the EU executive said.
Any trade agreement that is reached must regulate issues ranging from trade and student exchanges to energy ties and transport, and has to be ratified by the more than 700 members of the European Parliament to be enacted. The approval of the 27 EU member states is also required.
European lawmakers who discussed the matter on Friday said that for this to happen, a deal must be in place by the middle of this month.
“Given how far away we are from a deal, that seems increasingly unlikely,” said one European Parliament official. “Time for ratification is running out.”
A senior EU lawmaker who took part in Friday’s meeting said that once an agreement was reached, it would have to be scrutinised by experts in many fields and translated into various languages.
“It’s getting tight,” the lawmaker said, adding that if the parliament is to ratify any agreement at a plenary sitting on Dec. 16, it will have to have the full text by Nov. 16.
If Britain and the EU fail to enact a new trade deal from 2021, trade disruptions are likely to weigh on the European economy, already suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Barnier and Frost are expected to issue an update on the state of talks midway through next week. If an agreement looks in reach, Johnson and von der Leyen could be brought in to try to get a deal over the line.
(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Timothy Heritage)