In the context of the negotiations on the terms of the transition period during which the U.K. will remain bound by EU rules following its official exit, the applicability and enforcement of international trade agreements between the EU and third countries is an important question. Although the U.K. would remain bound by the terms of the free trade agreements (FTA) concluded by the EU, the major trading partners with which these FTAs have been concluded would not necessarily be bound to respect the terms of the agreements in relation to the U.K.

Certain trading partners including Canada and Japan appear determined to follow a more conciliatory approach, emphasizing the desirability of preserving a degree of predictability in their trade relations with the U.K. Japanese officials have mentioned the onerous nature of renegotiating existing trading terms with the U.K., while Canadian officials refer to the fact that the FTA with the EU (CETA) has been concluded and entered into force so recently.

However, other trading partners including Chile and South Korea have suggested they might seek to condition the extension of their FTAs’ applicability to the U.K. during the transition period. South Korea in particular appears to see two opportunities to extract concessions from the U.K. to remedy the trade deficit it has maintained with the U.K. in recent years. The first opportunity would arise in the context of agreeing to the transition period, and the second in the subsequent negotiation of bilateral trade terms with the U.K. to apply after the transition period.

As a result, in an attempt to protect FTAs from renegotiation, the EU and U.K. will likely agree on a declaration confirming the continued applicability of these FTAs to the U.K. during the transition period.