European Parliament ratifies EU-UK trade deal

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European Parliament President David Sassoli speaks during the announcement of results of the votes at European Parliament Plenary session in Brussels, Belgium, April 28, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

The European Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly gave its seal of approval to the trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) that had been agreed on Christmas Eve last year.

The decision was adopted by 660 votes in favour, five against and 32 abstentions, while the accompanying resolution, setting out the parliament's evaluation of and expectations from the deal, passed by 578 votes, with 51 against and 68 abstentions.

The vote took place on Tuesday, with results announced on Wednesday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen immediately welcomed the news, which brings to an end more than four years of acrimonious negotiations between the two sides.

"I warmly welcome the@Europarl_EN vote in favour of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. The TCA marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK. Faithful implementation is essential," she wrote on Twitter.

The UK joined the EU in 1973 but announced to withdraw in 2016 after a referendum. It officially left the bloc on Jan. 31, 2020.

After 11 months of intense negotiations on their future partnership, EU and UK negotiators reached the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) in a last-ditch attempt with one week left before the transition period ended on Dec. 31, 2020.

To minimise disruption, the agreement has been provisionally applied since the beginning of this year, valid until the end of April.

In the accompanying resolution, the European Parliament said the TCA limits the negative consequences of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, which it, however, considered a "historic mistake" as no third country can enjoy the same benefits as an EU member.

The zero quota and zero tariff trade agreement was viewed positively by MEPs, who believed it guarantees fair competition and can serve as a model for future trade agreements.

However, the legislators regretted that the UK did not want the agreement to extend to foreign, security and development policies and did not want to participate in the Erasmus+ student exchange programme.

"The EU and the UK have created the basis for a relationship among equals. Most importantly, today is a beginning, not the end," said Andreas Schieder, rapporteur for the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, in a statement.

"We agreed on many important areas, such as securing mutual market access and building a good relationship on trade. Much work remains on foreign policy and educational exchange programmes," Schieder added.

"For years, if not for decades, we will have to deal with the consequences of Brexit," said David McAllister, chair of the foreign affairs committee of the European parliament on Tuesday.

McAllister hailed the TCA as an agreement that puts the EU-UK future partnership on a solid legal basis, but ruled out the possibility of maintaining "a completely frictionless trade."

The EU-UK trade in goods has been deeply affected by Brexit, according to latest figures published by Eurostat, the EU's statistical office.

In the first two months of 2021, exports from the bloc to the UK fell 20.2% compared to last year, while the EU's imports from the UK recorded an even sharper decrease of 47%.

The UK is now the EU's third biggest trade partner in goods after China and the United States.

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