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Phil Hogan insists no-deal Brexit threat won't 'cut the ice' in trade talks

Hogan said that he’s trying to allow apples and pears from the EU to be exported to the US as part of a possible new EU trade deal.

Commissioner Hogan and MEP Frances Fitzgerald rub elbows before a discussion at the Royal Irish Academy today.
Commissioner Hogan and MEP Frances Fitzgerald rub elbows before a discussion at the Royal Irish Academy today.
Image: John Hennessy

THE EU’S TRADE Commissioner Phil Hogan has said that the threat of a no-deal Brexit “hasn’t cut any ice” in the first phase of Brexit talks, and “it won’t cut any ice” in the second phase, either.

Hogan, a former Fine Gael minister for Finance and Environment, is heading up the trade talks with the UK on what its future relationship with the EU will be. This is the second phase of talks, which follow the first phase of talks on the UK’s ‘divorce’, culminating in the Withdrawal Agreement.

Talks are due to begin in earnest this month, though there has been some political posturing: it’s been reported that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is trying to work around an Irish Sea border, in apparent contradiction of EU aims to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Johnson has also refused to extend the timeframe for these trade negotiations: as it stands, the entire agreement will need to be in place for 1 January 2021. This leaves a mere months for talks, despite other EU trade talks taking several years.

Yesterday, Hogan referred to these as “opening skirmishes” before a hurling match; today, he repeated that comparison, and said today that the talks had been “serious and professional”, and that they had been “settling down to the business of trying to win the match”.

 He said that the tactic of a no-deal Brexit “hasn’t cut any ice in negotiations on the Withdrawal treaty, and it won’t cut any ice on the Political Declaration and the political discussions that we’re having now”.

He added that it was a “no-brainer” to aim for “zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping”.

“For trade talks to succeed both sides need to win”.

Hogan added that he was concerned about the recent complacency about Brexit:

And I’m a little bit concerned that the decreasing focus on the issue here in Ireland up to recently, in spite of repeated attempts by people to flag it as an issue. The difficult parts of Brexit is only beginning now.

The US trade deal

Speaking to reporters before an address at the Royal Irish Academy on Brexit trade talks, on trade relations with the US, and reforming the World Trade Organization, Phil Hogan said that there were “good will” with the US after a recent trip there, and that he was hopeful about a “mini trade deal in the coming weeks”.

He said that there were still some outstanding issues, but he’s very satisfied with the atmosphere on issues that have “bedevilled us over the years”: “Substance over speed.”

He said that he would not ask the US to change its food safety rules if it would require Congress’ approval, but added that there was “no scientific basis” for some of the outstanding issues in relation to sanitary and phytosanitary agreement (trade of food products, plants and live animals) as part of a prospective trade deal.

“We have a long list of asks for many years, we have actually a particular plant that we are seeking approval from European Union, to be able to be sold in the United States for 29 years waiting for the result.

We’re waiting, eight years for the approval for the export apples and pears to the United States. I have not heard the scientific basis how these products are being prevented, and that gives you just two examples. There’s a list on both sides.

Other topics: Covid-19, rocking boats, and language

 

When asked about the economic impact of Covid-19, Phil Hogan said that it “obviously is going to have an economic impact on the country, and the global economic impact, which of course, as a small open economy has implications for Ireland more than most.”

As Hogan said last week, the new coronavirus threat counted as “extraordinary circumstances”, and that in terms of relaxing State aid rules to help businesses, that “this can be done,” provided the evidence is given by an EU member state.

…We have an obligation to look at this and to invoke whatever flexibilities are required under law, in order to give those countries and those sectors a chance to be able to survive. This is what we intend to do.

A US journalist asked Hogan why he’s much more optimistic now about a US trade deal than he was during his trip to Washington, telling him “you really rocked some boats when you were in Washington last”.

“Did I?” was Hogan’s reply. “I hadn’t noticed. We’re just getting on with the business of respecting the other side.”

“But was there any reason for the fact that the relationship seems easier?” the journalist asked.

“I’m just that kind of guy.”

In his closing remarks, Hogan said that he has learned that “language is important”, in these Brexit trade talks.

Maybe we’ll get the same outcome with different words – we are dealing with the masters of the English language.

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