WTO agreement secures £1.3 trillion market for British contractors

The WTO has today (27 February 2019) confirmed that British businesses will be able to continue bidding for public sector contracts around the world after the UK leaves the EU.

British businesses will be able to continue bidding for public sector contracts around the world worth more than £1.3 trillion a year after we leave the European Union.

World Trade Organization (WTO) members have today (Wednesday 27 February) confirmed that the UK will join the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) as an independent member if we leave the EU without an agreement.

This is a significant step in the UK establishing its independent trade policy for the first time in more than 40 years. The UK has already submitted its own tariff schedules to the WTO and will take up its independent seat in Geneva after exit day.

The UK will join the GPA as an independent member as soon as possible if we leave the EU without an agreement, or will remain a member under EU schedules if we have an Implementation Period.

The GPA is an agreement within the WTO framework between its 19 members, including major economies such as the United States, Canada, the EU and Japan. The UK’s independent membership gives British businesses the certainty that they will be able to continue bidding for public sector contracts overseas on almost the same terms as they do now.

Overseas businesses will be able to bid for £67 billion worth of public sector contracts in the UK every year. In return, British suppliers will be able to bid for £1.3 trillion worth of government contracts overseas in a wide range of sectors from large infrastructure to professional and business services.

It will also ensure that British taxpayers and public sector organisations, including government departments, continue to benefit from increased choice and value for money on contracts which are open to international competition. The agreement will continue to protect vital public services such as the NHS.

International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox said:

I’m delighted to have confirmation from the GPA Committee today that the UK will be an independent member of the agreement as we leave the EU. This is a hugely successful global agreement which will give British businesses certainty that they can continue bidding for £1.3 trillion worth of government procurement contracts overseas.

This is an important win for British diplomacy as we take our place on the world stage, and we are looking forward to continuing to play a committed and active role in the GPA Committee and the WTO as a whole. I’d like to thank our colleagues in the GPA for working with us to achieve this excellent result.

While there may be a short period of less than a month before the GPA takes legal effect in a no deal scenario, disruption to businesses is likely to be minimal. The Government has made guidance available to businesses.

Preparations for Brexit

The UK and the WTO – Article by Dr Liam Fox

When we speak for ourselves, we flourish – and our status in the WTO is no exception” is an article for the Telegraph newspaper written by Dr Liam Fox, which was also published on the Government’s website on the 2nd November 2018.

The article attempts to clarify misconceptions on WTO negotiations and goods schedules.

All content is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0

As part of our work to set up the UK’s own trade policy for the first time in over 40 years, we are currently establishing our independent goods “schedule” at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The UK is a full and founding member of the WTO and our status is no different from that of, say, Canada or Japan. But under the EU treaties, EU member states have agreed to speak with one voice on trade. In the WTO that means the Commission represents the member states. It also means the UK’s rights and obligations are bound up with those of the other EU member states in common “schedules”. One for goods and one for services, these are the official WTO documents that describe the tariffs, quotas, subsidies, and regulatory commitments that underpin our position in the multilateral trading system.

Before we leave the EU, the UK needs to separate its schedules from the EU’s. As part of this process, WTO members have a chance to respond. A small number expressed reservations and would like to discuss further. Last week, I announced that the UK intends to open negotiations at the WTO to address these concerns. This has been purposefully misunderstood by those wishing to stop Brexit as evidence that our WTO strategy isn’t working.

They are wrong. It’s not unprecedented for a WTO member to trade on schedules that have not been approved by every other WTO member. In fact, the EU hasn’t had an up to date certified goods schedule since 2004, and certainly doesn’t have an updated services one.

The government’s policy since October 2016 has been to establish the UK’s independent position in the WTO by March 2019 so that we are prepared for a range of possible Brexit outcomes. That remains our policy, and last week’s announcement is evidence that it is on track, not that it has failed.

Under WTO procedures, if changes to a country’s schedule are of a purely technical and formal nature, members can use a process called “rectification” to make those changes. That is why we decided to replicate, as far as possible, the UK’s existing rights and obligations. We have replicated thousands of tariffs lines in our EU schedules into our UK-only schedules.

We always knew agricultural quotas and subsidies would be different. You cannot copy and paste a quota or subsidy for the EU into the UK schedule: it would represent a major change to our agricultural trade on the one hand, and a major increase in the UK’s rights to subsidise agriculture on the other. The UK and the EU came up with a methodology last year for dividing the EU’s existing agricultural quotas and subsidies, based on existing trade flows with third countries. We knew there would be objections, because the countries that rely most on these quotas – the US, New Zealand, the major Latin American exporters – have been telling us, and the EU, from the outset.

We nevertheless used this methodology in our goods schedule and submitted it to the WTO membership, for 2 main reasons. First, we believe this represents a fair reproduction of the rights under the EU’s existing schedule. And second, our priority was to first establish the UK’s separate schedule in the WTO and only then to use other WTO processes that exist to address any objections to specific elements of it.

The objections we have received were therefore neither unexpected, nor a failure of our strategy. We have always been open to having more detailed discussions with partners once we had established our own schedule. That is why I have announced our intention to launch negotiations on these objections.

This process is unlikely to be fully complete by the time we leave the EU. But objecting WTO members cannot veto the UK trading on our uncertified goods, or services, schedules after next March. In the unlikely event of a “no deal” between the UK and EU, we will be able to take full control of our trade policy in March 2019 based on the schedule we have set out.

As the Director General of the WTO has said, the consequences of no deal would not be a walk in the park but nor would it be the end of the world. There will be difficult moments, but the UK will be ready to take back full control in the WTO from next March.


Joint letter from the EU and the UK to the WTO

On the 11 October, the EU and UK published a joint letter sent from the EU and the UK Permanent Representatives to the WTO.

In preparation for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, the UK government and the European Commission have set out a number of proposals for future global trading arrangements.

The proposals include apportioning the EU’s existing commitments on the amount of imported goods on which a lower duty is charged. These tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) apply to a range of everyday items such as dairy products and meat.

International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox said

“As an international economic department, we’ve been working closely with the European Commission to prepare for our withdrawal from the EU in order to minimise any disruption to global trade.”

“Our agreed collaborative approach shows real progress on how UK government intends to take forward our future trading arrangements with the world. This is the start of our open and constructive engagement with the WTO membership and sets out our intentions regarding EU quotas to forge ahead and establish the UK as an independent WTO member.”

To ensure a smooth transition which minimises disruption to our trading relationships with other WTO members the UK intends to replicate as far as possible its obligations under the current commitments of the EU.

This agreed approach between the UK and EU will now form the first part of our cooperative, inclusive and open engagement we will have with WTO members, in accordance with WTO rules and procedures.

The letter is available from (pdf)

and was signed by

On behalf of the UK by
H.E. Julian Braithwaite, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the International Organizations in Geneva

On behalf of the EU by
H.E. Marc Vanheukelen, Permanent Representative of the European Union to the WTO

However, it may not be as straightforward as it seems according to a report from the BBC,

and another report by Politico EU

A number of countries Argentina, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand, Uruguay and the USA have objected to the proposals because dividing quotas for goods imported at reduced tariffs for crucial agricultural goods such as meat, sugar and grains will leave them worse off. The letter was sent to Julian Braithwaite and Marc Vanheukelen on September 27. I noticed a copy of this letter at


I found a useful article about Tariff-rate Quotas on the Trade Beta Blog at

UK, EU, WTO, Brexit primer — 2. Tariff quotas

EU Resources


Various interesting and/or useful links.

Negotiating documents on Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom


IndexMundi contains detailed country statistics, charts, and maps compiled from multiple sources. You can explore and analyze thousands of indicators organized by region, country, topic, industry sector, and type.

Examining the UK’s relationship with the EU

Following on from a 2010 election and Coalition Government pledge to ‘repatriate’ EU competences to the UK, in July 2012 the Government launched a Review of the Balance of Competences, which it described as “an audit of what the EU does and how it affects the UK”

World Trade Organisation (WTO)

The WTO, which was established in 1995, and its predecessor organization the GATT have helped to create a strong and prosperous international trading system. It currently has 162 members. The UK has been a WTO member since 1 January 1995 and a member of GATT since 1 January 1948. All EU member States are WTO members, as is the EU in its own right.

Information about the WTO can be found at

Brexit and the World Trade Organization

An article, by Gregory Messenger – a Lecturer in Law at the University of Liverpool, which discusses the consequences from a World Trade Organization (WTO) perspective if the UK were to leave the EU.

European Commission – Departments and Services

The Commission is divided into several departments and services. The departments are known as Directorate-Generals (DGs). This page has links to the various departments.

Information provided by the EU

The EU is active in a wide range of area, from human rights to transport and trade.

Useful links providing information on these topics can be found at

UK in a Changing Europe

The UK in a Changing Europe initiative is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and based at King’s College London. The Initiative explores the key aspects of UK and EU dynamics. Their website provides a wealth of information exploring numerous issues which may affect how you decide to vote.

They have also produced a useful document, in conjunction with Full Fact the UK’s independent fact checking organisation, to provide impartial information on claims made by both the Remain and Leave campaigns on various topics

Leave/Remain: The Facts behind the claims

Full Fact

Full Fact is the UK’s independent, non-partisan, factchecking charity. It checks claims made by politicians, the media, pressure groups, and other voices in public debate, and pushes for corrections where necessary.


The British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) provides informed, independent and practical legal ideas for a global community.

British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL).

Comments on Brexit


Seven Brexit Endgame Scenarios – A guide to the parliamentary process of withdrawal from the European Union (pdf)



The creation of a single European economic area based on a Common Market was a fundamental objective of the Treaty of Rome.

Today, the EU is the largest economy in the world. It is the worlds biggest exporter of manufactured goods and has the worlds largest single market area of more than 500 million consumers.

The EU is responsible for the trade policy of its member countries and negotiates trade agreements, based on World Trade Organisation rules, on their behalf. This means that no individual member government can negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with a non-EU partner.