EU says it cannot guarantee Britain's rights versus third countries under trade pacts with bloc after Brexit

The European Union's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speaks at a press conference at the EU headquarters on Jan 29. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - The European Union cannot guarantee third countries will grant Britain the same benefits it currently enjoys from trade pacts and other agreements during the 21-month transition period after it quits the bloc.

Diplomats in Brussels said the EU would still expect Britain to be bound by such deals during the transition, from March 30, 2019, until the end of 2020.

"But we can't guarantee that some third country, for political or other reasons, wouldn't want to bug the UK and argue that it is out of the EU and perhaps shouldn't have the benefits from an agreement during transition," one diplomat said.

"In that case, it will be for the UK to find agreement with the country," the diplomat told Reuters after the bloc's executive European Commission briefed the remaining 27 EU states on the issue.

Diplomats said the general expectation is that third countries would not want to make problems for Britain as the international agreements were mutually beneficial, but the possibility was there.

"In general, that's more of a UK problem than ours," a second diplomat said.

The EU's Brexit negotiator, Mr Michel Barnier, said earlier this week that Britain would remain bound by all existing EU international agreements such as trade and aviation pacts.

"But we cannot ensure... that the UK keeps the benefits from these international agreements. Our partners around the world may have their own views on this," Mr Barnier told a news conference on Monday (Jan 29).

Britain will be leaving more than 750 international agreements after Brexit.

One issue raised during Wednesday's briefing was tariff rate quotas that allow the import of farm products, such as beef and lamb, from fellow World Trade Organisation members.

Britain and the European Commission told other WTO members in October how they plan to split the quotas, but this requires unanimous approval from the 164-member WTO.

Agricultural exporters to the EU have said they would not accept the plan simply to split the quotas based on past trade flows, arguing it would reduce their flexibility.

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