Architecture ignored in Brexit trade talks, says Lords report

Trade negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and Europe have so far ignored architecture and other professional and business services, according to a report published by the House of Lords EU Services Sub-Committee.

A Brexit transition agreement will end of 31 December, leaving the EU and the UK trading on terms set out by the World Trade Organisation – unless they strike a free trade deal beforehand.

But negotiations on a free trade deal have not adequately addressed key issues for professional and business services, such as the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, business mobility and EU member opt-outs, according to the Lords report.

The RIBA told the committee that mutual recognition of qualifications was a particular priority, adding that the benefits of an agreement on recognition would lie not only in facilitating trade but also in ensuring that those offering the services [in the UK] ‘are able to be monitored by our own regulatory body'.

However, the EU and the UK currently differ fundamentally in their position on mutual recognition, the report says. The UK wants default mutual recognition, while the EU wants professional bodies to negotiate sector-specific deals, which are signed off by a 'partnership council'.

The report notes that the EU's proposal mirrored the relationship it has with Canada, where not a single mutual recognition agreement has yet been struck. It suggests that this is an area where a bad deal could be worse than no deal, and calls for government to push for an arrangement which at least allows bilateral agreements on mutual recognition.

The report says it is also concerned EU countries will impose national reservations, essentially opting out of parts of the trade deal using national-level restrictions.

"We have received evidence that national reservations to the agreement such as economic needs tests and rules on local presence could be catastrophic for the UK's professional and business service sectors," the report said.

It recommends that government pushes to remove barriers imposed through national reservations, in particular ensuring the free trade deal 'explicitly commits not to tie market access to local establishment or residency'.

"This sector, and the people who depend on it for their livelihoods, will suffer if its needs are not reflected in the UK's negotiations with the EU," said Rita Donaghy, chair of the House of Lords EU Services Sub-Committee and a former president of the Trades Union Congress.

"We are concerned that they have been overlooked in the negotiations so far. A free trade agreement on services is no silver bullet, but there are a number of areas that both sides need to get right to limit potential barriers to trade."

She added: "It is essential that issues such as EU Member State national reservations to the agreement, the mutual recognition of professional qualifications and business mobility are dealt with properly in a future UK-EU agreement. These barriers to trade must be prevented.

"Despite being so close to the end of the transition period, many businesses, especially SMEs, are not well prepared, not least because they are not sure what to prepare for."

The UK currently exports £1 billion of architectural services to the EU every year.

This article originally appeared on Architects' Journal written by Will Ing 

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