Brexit: How do you negotiate a trade agreement?

At the negotiating table Image copyright Getty Images

“I think that on trade issues,” said the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, “we are going to rip each other apart.”

The war of words about a potential trade agreement between the UK and the EU is heating up.

But that’s to be expected.

And behind the scenes, a huge amount of work is going on to prepare for what could be a bruising few months.

“At the end of this year,” said the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, in a speech in Brussels, “we [will] recover our political and economic independence in full – why would we want to postpone it? That is the point of Brexit.”

So what do you need to think about when you’re preparing for trade negotiations?

“What do you want? That’s probably the first thing you have to be absolutely crystal clear on,” says Emily Jones, who runs the global economic governance programme at the Blavatnik School, at Oxford University.

“There’s a lot of trade-offs in doing a trade deal and it’s really important to be clear about what your priorities are and how you rank them.”

Image copyright Getty Images

Fishing is a good example. It’s a tiny part of the overall economy in the UK and the EU but both sides have already insisted they see it as a priority.

So what might either side be willing to concede in one sector to get what they want in another?

It’s worth remembering most deals are about getting rid of barriers to trade and moving closer together – but this negotiation will be about moving further apart.

Landing zone

It’s also important to know what the other side at the negotiating table wants to achieve.

To do that, you need to understand the politics they are grappling with and the legal and institutional constraints they face.

“It’s important to think about what the final deal will look like,” Ms Jones says, “you have to define the landing zone.”

A deal has to be acceptable to both sides; otherwise – in the end – it will fail. This is the core of the UK argument the EU needs to see this as a negotiation between sovereign equals.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionConfused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

Of course, there will be more lurid headlines on trade in the coming months.

In the end though, after all the shouting, when both sides need a deal, there will need to be realism about what can be achieved.

“I fear we are not as ready as we would like to be,” says Alan Winters,

 »