While free trade agreements are aimed at boosting trade, too many cheap imports could threaten a country`s producers, which could affect employment. The UK currently participates in many international agreements with third countries as a member of the EU. The EU online treaty database lists 1,261 international agreements to which the EU is a member. The European Union negotiates free trade agreements on behalf of all its member states, as EU member states have granted “exclusive jurisdiction” to conclude trade agreements. Nevertheless, the governments of the Member States control every step of the process (through the Council of the European Union, whose members are the national ministers of each national government). In November 2018, George Hollingbery, then trade minister, said the government was still optimistic about replacing most EU trade deals in time for Brexit day. He noted that the discussions had become more complex, as they had previously been based on a transitional period, but that the focus has now shifted “to the focus on key partners.” that no deal was a real possibility. He said it would be difficult to conclude agreements with some countries closely linked to the EU if there was no agreement with the EU. He also said that a previously announced agreement with the five members of the South African Customs Union (SACU) and Mozambique had not yet been reached. Negotiating free trade agreements is far from easy. Due to the complexity of modern free trade agreements, negotiations can take years. At the end of June 2019, about 20 years after the start of the negotiations, the European Commission reached an agreement in principle on the free trade agreement with the Mercosur countries. Months of work must be invested in the details before the agreement is ready to be signed.
Legislators do not expect the agreement to be tabled until the second half of 2020. In February 2019, the government said the UK would remain after the day of withdrawal, “where it is already a party in its own right,” to most “mixed” multilateral agreements. These include the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization and the climate change agreement. The UK would not remain in “mixed” bilateral agreements, such as some EU air and free trade agreements. The European Commission reports annually on the implementation of its main trade agreements in the previous calendar year. The EU has concluded more than a thousand international agreements with third countries, covering trade, aviation, nuclear cooperation and other issues. These no longer apply to the UK when it leaves the EU. The government has identified 157 agreements with non-EU countries that it is seeking to replace in the event of a non-Brexit deal.
Some agreements have already been concluded, but most of them are in progress and some will not be in force by the day scheduled for Brexit on 31 October. The EU insists that the UK must respect these rules precisely enough – so that British businesses have no advantage – but the UK government says it wants the freedom to move away. In addition to these agreements, the list of agreements signed by the Brexit minister of 25 January 2019 concerned insurance contracts with the United States and Switzerland, as well as a road agreement with Switzerland. Several multilateral agreements, for which the United Kingdom is taking steps to become an independent party, were also mentioned. These include international civil justice conventions, various fisheries agreements and agreements, the joint transit agreement, the Interbus agreement and the WTO public procurement agreement.