By Paul Davies, Charles Claypoole and Michael Green

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU), assuming the UK does not negotiate continued participation in the EU’s Internal Market and the Common Commercial Policy (on similar terms as now), will impact its existing participation in EU trade agreements and free trade access. Once the UK has withdrawn from the EU, the UK will need to commence national trade negotiations – early indicators suggest that there are already a number of countries (e.g. Australia, Canada, India and others) that would be interested in fast-tracking the process. Trade agreements strive to increase economic activity by reducing or removing barriers to trade across international borders. For example, trade agreements may negotiate reduced taxes applied to imports, reduce compliance costs associated with foreign jurisdiction regulations, and/or require signatory countries to outlaw child labour.

Typically, trade agreement objectives indirectly impact on environmental obligations for businesses and touch on a wide spectrum of environmental issues that affect consumers, including: food safety (the use of GM crops, for example); pesticides; chemical regulations; energy resourcing; and contamination liability. One of the most contentious agreements currently being negotiated is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is between the EU and the US. There are concerns that the current TTIP may stall or fail altogether due to the UK’s departure from the EU. However, if it does happen, we can expect the draft proposal to influence the content and format of many future trade agreements (including those that the UK will be looking to negotiate and enter into).