Cliffhanger Brexit will have deep impact for select sectors: WTO’s Director-General

The British parliament’s decision on April 12 will be is a milestone that Brexit watchers will be looking at very keenly.

According to Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), if the United Kingdom were to leave the European Union without a deal, it would impose “very significant” costs for sectors of the British economy.

The British government is scrambling to find parliamentary consensus over the terms of its departure from the European Union ahead of an April 12 deadline.

According to Azevedo, economists were best placed to estimate the potential impact of a cliff-hanger Brexit, which would leave the British economy trading on WTO rules.

“But I would say there will be costs, and the costs may be very significant in some sectors, and maybe less significant in other sectors. But overall, there will be an impact, we all know that,” said Azevedo.

In a linked but separate story. Azevedo sounded a note of caution on ongoing efforts to resolve a dispute over the future of the WTO’s Appellate Body. The United States has long argued that WTO judges have routinely broken with procedures and exceeded their mandates. So to force reforms, Washington has blocked the appointment of judges to the Appellate Body.

If Washington was to continue this tactics for longer, it would render the Appellate Body inoperable by December 2019, at which time terms for the remaining three judges are set to end.

Under WTO rules, three judges are required to hear appeals.

WTO member states are looking to find a way around the impasse, with Azevedo noting that the matter was chiefly a U.S. concern.

“The truth is that it’s difficult to know if we’re advancing or not,” said Azevedo, “because the Americans haven’t been contributing in a very active way to these discussions.”

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