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Senior eurocrats have conceded they are set to miss a key deadline in the wrangling over the future trade and security deal with Britain. And European Council President Charles Michel has warned colleagues there won’t be enough time to fully approve the future relationship pact if an agreement is not reached by Monday. With EU officials pessimistic of any breakthrough in the trade talks, sources claim they are working up a “Plan B” for a phased implementation of the deal.
Under the plan, Brussels would sign off on the main sections of the agreement, including tariff and quota-free trade, to ensure they come into force on January 1.
But the trickier sections that encroach on national powers, like air and road transport, fishing and security cooperation, would be delayed until they are green-lighted by EU capitals.
Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo now the talks are now in “stoppage time” with disagreements over fishing rights and state aid rules still blocking progress.
He said: “It is time to clarify what this Brexit will look like. We are in stoppage time in negotiations. A final agreement will have to be reached in the coming days.”
Mr De Croo is worried any further delays will hamper his country’s preparations for when Britain’s transition from the EU ends in December.
Britain is a key export market for Belgium with many of its company’s reliant on frictionless ties with the country.
The Belgian prime minister said: “The private sector is well prepared, but there is still work to be done politically.
“We will do everything we can to protect our companies, but we must be able to force something politically in the coming days.
“Otherwise we will end up in a situation where there will be congestion in our ports.”
Finance minister Vincent Van Peteghem added: “We will continue to keep our companies trading with the UK as much information as possible.
“We see that many companies have already taken the necessary steps there, but it is important that we now also convince the last five percent of the companies to prepare.”
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Researchers at the KU Leuven university have warned of up to 42,000 job losses if Britain and the EU fail to secure a trade deal.
Two-thirds of them would be in Flanders, where the region’s main ports – Antwerp and Zeebrugge – are two of the main routes for British products being shipped to the Continent.
And as much as eight percent of Flanders’ exports go to the UK, which makes it only second to Ireland for reliance on the British market.
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The region accounts for 85 percent of the total Belgian exports to the UK.
Recent studies, cited by the Flemish government, said it would face a 1.8 percent hit to GDP even if the UK and EU manage to secure a free-trade agreement.
Belgium’s food and drink processing industry would likely face a steeper decline than any other sector of the country’s economy, according to the KU Leuven study.
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