Chinas envoy to the EU warned that planned trade talks between London and Beijing face “great uncertainties” if Britain fails to reach a trade deal with the EU beforehand.
In his first media interview since becoming ambassador to the EU six months ago, Zhang Ming told POLITICO that EU-U.K. talks must be finalized prior to any detailed negotiations with China.
“If there is not a Brexit deal, there wont be things to talk about after that,” he said, adding, “If the EU and the U.K. fail to reach agreement in the first place, the U.K.s agreements with other parties may have to face great uncertainties.”
Thats bad news for the U.K. government, which is keen to accelerate moves to strike trade deals with countries outside the EU.
Prime Minister Theresa May and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox visited China in January to promote trade links. She emphasized that there was much that could be done even before a formal trade deal can be agreed. The U.K. can negotiate and even sign trade deals during a transition but any deal cannot come into effect until the end of that period.
“One of the other things were doing with a number of countries is actually talking about how we can enhance trade now, even before we get a trade agreement,” she said. “I think that there is more we can be doing in the interim, in terms of looking at potential barriers to trade and the opening up of markets.”
On the same trip, when asked about the prospect of a trade deal with China, Fox said: “We are looking to see where we can get improvements with that, whether its done with a gold standard FTA [free-trade agreement], whether its done by a series of measures for market access and mutual recognition, or equivalence.”
Zhang pointed out that a joint economic trade commission set up with the U.K. would facilitate trade engagement. “Thats why I say that not everything will start from zero after Brexit. We already have a solid basis.”
But he said that a deal with the EU was crucial before substantial trade talks could take place. “Only with an EU-U.K. deal can the U.K. be in a better position to have more detailed discussions with other players of the international community,” the ambassador, who was speaking through a translator, said.
Formal trade talks with the EU can only begin once the U.K. has left the bloc in March next year, meaning that any trade deal with China is likely several years away.
Zhang also said that disruptions in the talks between Brussels and London, or even a “hard Brexit” scenario with no trade deal at all, would impact the world economy.
“Our position is that we sincerely hope that the Brexit talks can go smoothly. And we do not want to see spillover effects on the global economy as a result of setbacks of the talks,” he said, adding that “in our philosophy, we believe marriage is more pleasant than divorce.”
But he said that a positive agreement would benefits other countries. “If Brexit goes well, I believe there will not be a big impact on U.K.s cooperation with other members of the international community,” Zhang said.