Wall Street Journal view of Brexit

Posted on: 07/02/2017

Making Room for Britain at the World Trade Organization

If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union before concluding a new trade agreement with the EU, how will British trade be buoyed to fill the Brexit gap? The widespread assumption is that Britain will be able to fall back automatically on the balance-of-trade rights and obligations it enjoys as a member of the World Trade Organization. In Brexit parlance, this is called the WTO option. The problem is that 163 other WTO member countries may see things differently. This is not to cast doubt on the legal status of the U.K. as a WTO member. What is very much in doubt, however, is whether the U.K.’s current WTO trade benefits will survive intact post-Brexit. Currently, the U.K.’s WTO trade benefits are bound up with those of the 27 other EU member states in a schedule of concessions—a list of tariffs, quotas and other trade commitments on market entry for thousands of traded goods and services. Post-Brexit, the U.K. will need its own separate WTO-approved list.

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