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World News

Past missed deadlines, EU could still approve UK trade deal on time

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain and the European Union missed a mid-November deadline to seal a new trade deal before the end of the year, but negotiators are still pursuing an agreement, which Ireland’s foreign minister has said could take two more weeks.

The EU has warned there may be too little time left to complete its elaborate ratification process. But it is also determined to sidestep blame if the estranged allies fail to avoid trade rifts in six weeks when Britain’s status quo transition out of the bloc ends.

Here are the key steps that would allow the EU to put in place a new UK trade pact before Jan. 1, 2021.

NEGOTIATORS REACH AGREEMENT

EU and UK Brexit negotiators are no longer expected to agree this week on terms to keep trade flowing freely from 2021.

Ireland’s Simon Coveney said on Monday it could take up to two more weeks for negotiators to overcome rifts on fisheries, corporate fair play and settling disputes.

EU officials and diplomats told Reuters they are already looking at ways to ensure any agreement could get all the necessary approvals from the bloc should it emerge next week or in the first days of December.

Beyond trade, the deal would also regulate post-Brexit relations between the EU and Britain on everything from welfare and health benefits to energy and transport, to student exchanges and nuclear programmes.

“EU ONLY”

The executive European Commission - which is negotiating with Britain on behalf of the bloc’s 27 countries - will present its draft deal as covering EU-wide issues only, and hence requiring approval solely by the European Parliament.

However, France, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Finland are among EU states critical of that idea. They say transport and other subjects covered by the deal are normally dealt with at the national level rather than centrally in Brussels.

They could push to leave such areas outside of any new trade agreement and have them ratified separately by all member states, their national and, in some cases, also regional parliaments.

That is a process fraught with risks that would effectively push transport and other industries in question into a no-deal scenario from 2021, causing damage to many - from Finland’s flag airline carrier to Polish and Spanish truckers.

Although this will be controversial, diplomats and officials say a so-called “EU only” deal is now the only avenue available for timely ratification and they expect all EU member states will agree to it.

DEC. 10

The European Parliament’s 704 members hope to approve the deal at their last plenary session this year on Dec. 15-16.

An assembly internal note, which was seen by Reuters, sets Dec. 10 as deadline for the 27 EU states to formally request the parliamentary approval after they have endorsed any deal reached by the negotiators, Michel Barnier and Britain’s David Frost.

Should that lapse, parliament officials told Reuters they are already looking at alternatives that might require calling an additional, emergency plenary sitting in late December.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by John Chalmers and Peter Graff

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