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GENEVA: Twenty-seven countries have raised concerns about Britain’s future trading terms at the World Trade Organisation, trade sources in Geneva told AFP on Friday, in a move that could delay post-Brexit free trade deals.

The WTO in Geneva — which has 164 countries as members — is where countries negotiate the rules of international trade and settle disputes.

Although Britain is a member outright, for decades the EU has represented the UK at the WTO.

But Brexit means the UK has to separate its trade rules from the EU if it wants to act with more independence.

As March approaches — Britain’s Brexit leave date — the UK has pushed to essentially replicate the WTO rules it currently follows as an EU member, with some technical changes.

But trade sources have told AFP that 27 countries have “raised concerns” about the plans, particularly regarding agriculture tariffs and quotas, as well as other issues.

The move has been described as a “welcome to reality” moment for the UK, by analysts.

“All these countries, they are all saying we would like something, we want a bigger share of the pie,” David Henig, Director of the UK Trade Policy Project, told AFP.

“While the UK is in these (WTO) negotiations, that can potentially delay bilateral deals with other countries,” he said.

A delay to new free trade deals post-Brexit – touted as a key benefit of leaving the EU by Brexit supporters – could have economic consequences for the UK.

But it is still unclear whether Britain’s proposed Brexit deal will even leave the UK with much power to negotiate free trade deals.

Until a Brexit deal is completed, it is impossible to know what terms of trade will be negotiated at the WTO.

Many of the concerns raised by other countries at the WTO could even fall away if the UK stays part of the EU’s Customs Union for example, trade sources said.

National interests: The WTO said the situation is without precedent but that while discussions take place, trade will continue as normal.

“The type of conversation that will take place very much depends on the outcome of the UK-EU bilateral negotiation,” the WTO said in a statement.

A separate issue is whether British businesses will continue to get equal access to bid for government contracts in other WTO countries, known as government procurement agreements.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2018

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