Results of the European elections held in the UK on 23 May resulted in a significant defeat for the ruling Conservative party and a win for the Brexit Party, a single issue political group seeking for the UK to withdraw from the European Union. Several contenders, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, are taking a hard-line approach to Brexit and have pledged that under their leadership the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal on Brexit day. Other candidates, such as Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Sajid Javid, promise to unite Brexiteers and Remainers and “deliver Brexit”. Whomever succeeds May will inherit a daunting task. For business, the latest developments mean prolonged uncertainty and an increased fear of an abrupt departure from the EU with trade on World Trade Organization terms.

In an attempt to create a majority in the UK Parliament to ratify the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the EU, Prime Minister May intended to made certain concessions. Among them was the idea of negotiating a new and separate customs union with the EU that would take effect when the UK is no longer part of the EU internal market. The Brexit Party rejects this proposal and it may not be tenable for the next Conservative Party leader. Nevertheless, pressure to avoid a hemorrhaging hard Brexit, may yet result in further consideration of a separate customs union with the EU. It is useful then to consider what a customs union without single market access and EU membership might look like and how it could affect business.


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On 10 April 2019, the European Union granted the United Kingdom a flexible extension, coined a “flextension”, until 31 October.  This additional period of time is intended, to allow the UK to ratify the Brexit Deal, an agreement devised between the EU and the UK for the orderly exit of the UK from the bloc. The Deal includes a transition period, a controversial solution to manage the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and provides for such things as citizens’ rights and the legal status of goods in transit at the moment of Brexit. The flextension will end as soon as the Deal is ratified, if it happens before the end of October.  Should the UK Parliament not find a majority to support the Deal, the UK could be forced to seek another extension or risk crashing out of the EU on Halloween.

The so-called “cliff edge” Brexit remains a real possibility considering that the Deal has been rejected by Members of the UK Parliament three times already, and successful cross-party negotiations is not by any means a foregone conclusion.  The UK certainly will continue its no deal preparations, including efforts to strike post-Brexit trade agreements with third countries; to date, the agreements it has secured cover only about 11 per cent of UK trade by value. The UK also could use this time to reconsider its Brexit strategy, which ranges from holding a second referendum to attempting to amend the Political Declaration attached to the Deal which delineates mutual commitments concerning the future UK-EU relationship to abandoning Brexit altogether.
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With or without a deal and unless there is a last minute extension, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union (EU) at 11 pm London time on 29 March 2019.  Since triggering the exit process, the UK has worked towards having a deal in place that would ensure a smooth departure, including a transition period that would largely preserve the status quo until the end of 2020 or even beyond.   At the same time, however, both the UK and the EU have engaged in contingency planning in the event a deal could not be agreed or failed to be ratified.  For the UK, this has included efforts to revise legislation to remove references to the EU and its agencies to ensure that UK law could function on Day One after leaving the EU.  This process has involved the review of hundreds of legislative acts to create new statutory instruments, many of which have yet to be passed into law.  The legislative backlog means that necessary legislation may not be in place before 29 March 2019.  To avoid a legal gap, the UK adopted the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and provided therein a catch all provision to ensure that EU law that is not addressed elsewhere is retained.

Should the UK leave the EU without a deal, the UK will impose, update and lift sanctions as of 30 March pursuant to regulations issued under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 (the Sanctions Act). Sanctions regimes that are not covered would continue to apply, as retained EU law under the EU (Withdrawal) Act.   Sanctions laws apply to actions taken by UK persons, which includes companies and individuals, in the UK or anywhere else.
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On 14 November 2018, the UK Cabinet approved an agreement permitting the orderly exit of the UK from the European Union (EU), commonly known as Brexit.  Without such Withdrawal Agreement, the UK would crash out of the EU on 30 March 2019, effectively paralyzing trade between the UK and the Bloc.  As of this date,

Both the EU and the UK are eager to achieve a Brexit deal.  However, with time running short and red lines continuing to be drawn on both sides, a no-deal Brexit scenario remains a possibility.  For this reason, both the EU27 and the UK are expediting preparations for a hard Brexit.  Absent any temporary arrangements, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2018, it will become a “third country” EU trading partner overnight.  Trade in agri-food between EU-UK would then be governed by World Trade Organization (WTO), EU and UK rules, and food products would no longer move freely throughout the EU.

Agri-food business operators should roll out their contingency measures.  Contingency planning for a “hard” Brexit includes making possible revisions to supply chains, buying-ahead, stockpiling, warehousing, relocating food production, transferring import function, re-labelling, obtaining relevant authorizations and certifications, and taking other practical measures to avoid business disruptions. Companies need to ensure proper controls are in place with regard to import and export regulations. 
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Brexiteers claim that leaving the EU single market and customs union creates a golden opportunity for the UK to regain power over its international trade.  The potential future post-Brexit free-trade agreement that has received the most attention is that between the U.S. and the UK.  A U.S.-UK Trade and Investment Working Group was set up in July 2017 to lay the groundwork for a potential future U.S.-UK free-trade agreement after Brexit.  Political interest on both sides of the Atlantic was also boosted last week in New York as U.S. President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated their “mutual desire to form a wide-ranging trade deal.”  The U.S. is, however, the more important market with the stronger bargaining power. The UK takes only 3 percent of U.S. exports, while the U.S. accounts for 15 percent of UK exports, as well as roughly 19 percent of the UK’s total imports of services and nearly 22 percent of the UK’s total exports of services.
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Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent visit to Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria was the latest in the United Kingdom’s global diplomacy effort to secure strategic economic­ partnerships in preparation for the UK leaving the European Union (EU).  In the first visit of a UK Prime Minister to Africa since 2013, a 29 person delegation of government and private sector representatives pursued May’s goal of becoming Africa’s biggest foreign investor within four years.  As a result of the trip, trade and investment deals worth some 300 million GBP were announced, involving everything from automobile manufacturing and digital money transfer services to insurance and agricultural technology. Importantly, the UK also reached a deal with the Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique to facilitate trade and announced major investments in education and voluntary family planning for the future of African youth.

Trade between the UK and Africa already is worth 31 billion GBP annually.  By 2050, a quarter of the world’s consumers will be African. According to the Prime Minister, “With a shared passion for entrepreneurship, technology and innovation, now is the time for UK companies to strengthen their partnerships with Africa to boost jobs and prosperity both at home and overseas.”

According to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, 233 million Africans are either suffering from hunger or are malnourished; 32 million of these are under the age of five.  While Africa’s economy is driven by agriculture, farming continues to be largely at a subsistence level:  80 percent of the 51 million farmers are small holder farmers.  Further, 95 percent of all farming in Africa is entirely dependent on rainfall.  The challenge under these conditions is to increase food production by 50 to 70 percent by 2050 without destroying the environment.  What will be required is a combination of increasingly sophisticated farming techniques (e.g. precision farming), precision breeding; improved stewardship; access to advancements achieved by modern biotechnology to increase drought tolerance, increase yield, and combat plant pests and diseases; and enabling regulatory policies and frameworks.  Critical is the fact that more efficient agriculture directly translates into freeing women and children to pursue other economic activities and/or education.
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It has always been a possibility that the United Kingdom would crash out of the European Union on 30 March 2019 but “no deal” preparation is now highly recommended by both sides.  For organisations that export dual use items, the possibility of the UK becoming a “third country” vis-à-vis the EU without an exit agreement or transition period means an overnight need for export licenses where none are required today.

Seasoned international businesses understand that dual use items, which can be used for both civil and military purposes, include far more products than one might assume.  In addition to the more obvious goods that may be used to produce or develop military items, such as machine tools and equipment used for chemical manufacturing, computers, drawings, technology, software, raw materials, and components also may be subject to dual use controls.   Even seemingly mundane items such as protective clothing used in medical laboratories, certain commonly used chemicals, certain ball bearings, and a wide variety of other products are controlled for export and they need to be properly classified to determine if a license would be needed to ship to a UK that has left the EU.  Many entities that have been operating exclusively within the EU could soon be confronted with dual use licensing requirements for the first time and global businesses may be faced with a potentially significant increase in the number of items that need be licensed.
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The European Union (EU) is preparing to treat the United Kingdom (UK) as a third country after its withdrawal from the bloc, commonly known as Brexit.  Unless a deal is agreed before 29 March 2019, the UK’s trade with the EU will be heavily impacted by regulatory restrictions, increased costs, and lengthier procedures applicable to the movements of people, goods and services.  Less obvious is the impact on trade of the “no deal” scenario from potentially restricted data flows. With only eight months left until Brexit Day, the UK and EU have yet to start talks on a data protection agreement.

Data flows play an increasingly important part in international trade and are estimated to contribute up to 2.8 trillion USD to the world economy.  In 2016 alone, EU services reliant on data exported to the UK, such as finance, telecoms and entertainment, were worth approximately 36 billion EUR. Data flows from the UK to the EU constitute as much as three-quarters of all data from the UK. Under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), however, personal data included in such data flows must be protected. For companies, this can include employee data (e.g. payroll information, biographical information, etc.) and customer data (e.g., contact information, transaction information, biographical information, social media profiles, etc.). Data flows from the EU to a third country are permitted if there is an adequacy decision by the European Commission that the third country’s data protection laws are adequate to meet the objectives of the GDPR or through another adequacy mechanism approved by the European Commission (e.g., EU-approved Binding Corporate Rules, use of Standard Contractual Clauses, etc.).
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On 4 June, the European Commission advised economic operators to prepare for the consequences of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union on their imports and exports.   Following the UK’s withdrawal, UK inputs, including materials and certain processing operations, will no longer be considered EU origin for purposes of enjoying preferential treatment.   Whether a particular good qualifies depends on the rules of origin specified in each trade agreement between the EU and its trading partners.  The Commission advises EU exporters to treat any UK inputs as “non-originating” when determining the EU’s treatment of their goods post-Brexit and to take appropriate steps to be able to prove the preferential origin of goods without counting UK inputs as EU content.  Economic operators importing goods into the EU also are advised to take steps to ensure that the exporter can demonstrate compliance with EU preferential origin rules given the exclusion of UK inputs after Brexit.
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