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Managing Post-Brexit UK-EU Food Trade

How Deep Can ‘Deep Regulatory Cooperation’ Be?

Chris Downes
Keywords: SPS, Brexit, food law, transparency, equivalence, precautionary principle, FTA, mutual recognition

The EU and UK have signalled their common aim of deep regulatory cooperation after Brexit. In the area of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures that govern food trade, this comprises regulatory discipline that extends beyond existing WTO obligations. While the Theresa May government’s ambition of ‘frictionless trade’ may have been cast aside, minimising new SPS barriers remains essential to the new trading relationship. This article evaluates the prospects of deep EU-UK regulatory cooperation in this domain, outlining the EU’s traditional approach to SPS Chapters in free trade agreements and discussing more ambitious alternatives. It focuses on five of the key SPS negotiating areas identified by the European Commission: approvals and authorisations, trade facilitation, transparency, bilateral consultation mechanisms and the precautionary principle. It identifies areas where advancing ‘WTO-Plus’ obligations appears feasible, and those where deeper cooperation looks less promising. In so doing, it seeks to provide a helpful framework for analysing the upcoming negotiations.
Keywords: SPS; Brexit; food law; transparency; equivalence; precautionary principle; FTA; mutual recognition.

Chris Downes is Senior Manager, International Trade and Regulatory Affairs at The European Consulting Company (ECCO), a Brussels-based consultancy specialising in food and trade policy; and Lecturer, University of Kent. E-mail: <>.


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