EU and British negotiators have made progress in post-Brexit trade deal talks, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday, but officials are reported to be less optimistic.
Von der Leyen said headway had been made at talks in Brussels towards agreeing on fair trade rules. The EU can now see a “narrow path to an agreement,” she told the European Parliament.
The next days are going to be decisive. The good news is that we have found a way forward on most issues.
The matter of state aid to businesses and how the trade deal will be governed “by now are largely being resolved,” she noted. “But this is now a case of us being so close, and yet being so far away from each other, because two issues still remain outstanding…a level playing field and the fisheries.”
The fisheries discussion is very difficult, she admitted, saying: “We do not question the UK sovereignty on its own waters, but we asked for predictability and stability.”
Britain wants to resume full control over access to its waters when it leaves the EU single market at the year end, while the EU insists it should preserve its quotas.
London has so far offered reduced access and annual quota renegotiations, and von der Leyen noted pessimistically that “in all honesty, I sometimes feel that we will not be able to resolve this question.”
Her tempered assessment of the progress was echoed by a UK official who was quoted by Reuters on Wednesday saying “we’ve made some progress, but we are still very far apart in key areas.”
An EU official said that “the main problem is fish,” as the two sides are “still an ocean apart.”
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