Brexit transition ‘not a given’, EU’s Barnier warns

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said it was ‘important to tell the truth’ that border checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland would be ‘unavoidable’ if it left the single market and the customs union. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Brexit transition ‘not a given’, EU’s Barnier warns

BRUSSELS: EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned Friday that plans for a post-Brexit transition period to ease the pain of the split were at risk because of “substantial” disagreements with Britain.
Barnier also rejected claims by his British counterpart David Davis that Brussels had been “discourteous” by including a punishment clause in a draft transition deal in case Britain breached the bloc’s rules.
“If these disagreements persist, the transition is not a given,” Barnier told a news conference in Brussels after a round of Brexit talks with British negotiators. “To be frank I am surprised by these disagreements.”
Britain hopes to agree by an EU summit next month on a transition period of around two years after it leaves the European Union in 2019.
During this period, Britain will still follow EU laws in exchange for access to the single market, but lose all decision-making power.
Barnier said deep divisions remained on citizens’ rights for EU migrants moving to Britain during the transition, as well as the UK’s ability to object to new EU laws passed during the phase.
There was also a row over whether Britain could have a say in new justice and home affairs policies during the transition, which the EU says should last from Brexit Day on March 29, 2019 to December 31, 2020.
The Brexit transition is aimed at giving citizens, businesses and public services time to get used to the impact of Britain leaving, and to allow more space for talks on an eventual EU-UK trade deal.
Barnier added that he “wasn’t talking about a threat” but “if this disagreement were to persist there would undoubtedly be a problem, I hope we would be able to resolve those disagreements in the next round” of talks.
The former French minister also hit back at comments made by his UK counterpart David Davis, who was not in Brussels, that the EU was acting in bad faith and had been “discourteous.”
“There has not been the slightest trace of a lack of courtesy or of aggressivity,” Barnier said.
Barnier said that he did not understand the angry British reaction to a draft EU transition agreement that contained swift sanctions for Britain if it breached the terms of the deal, including freezing its single market access.
“There is no desire to punish,” Barnier said, adding that it was standard for international agreements to have a “serious and effective” enforcement mechanism.
A draft EU agreement published on Wednesday calls for the ability to sanction Britain in cases in which it would take too long to refer any breach of those rules to the EU’s top court.
That could include reimposing tariffs or customs checks, both of which Britain is supposed to be free of as a member of the EU internal market.
This week’s talks also covered the thorny issue of Northern Ireland.
Britain and the EU reached an interim deal in December on three key separation issues — the financial settlement, the Irish border and the rights of EU citizens after Brexit.
But translating that into a proper legal agreement is proving especially difficult on the Northern Irish issue.
Barnier said it was “important to tell the truth” that border checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland would be “unavoidable” if it left the single market and the customs union.
He added that the eventual deal would contain an emergency option which states that if Britain fails to find a special solution for Northern Ireland, the UK would remain in “full alignment” with the EU on trade issues to ease the border impact.
Northern Irish unionists and pro-Brexit lawmakers have already angrily rejected this.
Britain and the EU aim to start talks on a future relationship in April but time is running out. Barnier says a draft deal is needed by November so it can be ratified in time for Brexit.


Eels break records in Maine, where they sell for big money

The elvers are always extremely valuable, but they are fetching an especially high price this year. (AP)
Updated 22 min 56 sec ago
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Eels break records in Maine, where they sell for big money

  • Fishermen have sold more than $20 million worth of the eels so far this season
  • The eels are raised to maturity and used in Japanese cuisine. Some are exported back to the US for use in restaurants in dishes such as unagi

PORTLAND, Maine: America’s only significant state fishery for baby eels has blown past records for value as high demand from overseas aquaculture companies is driving prices to new heights.
Fishermen in Maine search for the eels, called elvers, in rivers and streams every spring so they can be sold to Asian aquaculture companies as seed stock. Fishermen have sold more than $20 million worth of the eels so far this season, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
That is the highest total since interstate managers instituted a quota system for the eels in 2014. The previous record was $13.4 million, and fishermen still have until June 7 to catch more of the eels this year.
“Eels are going to get caught up in this next round of tides, I think,” said Darrell Young, co-director of the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association. “You never know what the price is going to be, but this year it’s high.”
The eels are raised to maturity and used in Japanese cuisine. Some are exported back to the US for use in restaurants in dishes such as unagi. The elvers are always extremely valuable, but they are fetching an especially high price this year because eel fisheries had unproductive years in other parts of the world, members of the industry said.
Maine’s fishermen were selling elvers at the dock for more than $2,400 a pound as of May 16, and that would be a record if it holds until the end of the season, state records say. They’re also not experiencing the slow harvest that has plagued fishermen in other parts of the world, and are on track to tap out their entire 9,688-pound quota this year.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission manages the elver fishery and instituted the quota for the first time in 2014 out of concern that a gold-rush mentality would jeopardize the eel population, which conservationists believe is in peril. Fishermen caught nearly 40,000 pounds of the eels between 2012 and 2013, which were years in which Maine elvers grew in value because foreign stocks dried up.
The quota was initially 11,749 pounds, and it was reduced to 9,688 pounds in 2015. Fishermen have never caught the entirety of the quota, though they’ve come close in the past two years. A proposal to increase the quota back to the higher number is up for public hearings in Maine next month.
The growth of the fishery has attracted the attention of some environmentalists. Geoff Smith, marine science program director for The Nature Conservancy, said Maine regulators were wise to implement new controls, such as a swipe-card system to deter poaching.
“As the global demand for elvers continues to rise, it’s increasingly important to have an effective monitoring and reporting system,” Smith said.
Federal investigators have also cracked down on elver poaching in recent years. A judge ruled in early May that two Maine men will spend six months in federal prison for illegally trafficking in poached baby eels.
Investigators are “actively working to dismantle an international wildlife trafficking scheme that not only harms American eels, but US business owners and others who rely on healthy ecosystems for both ecological and economical purposes,” said Assistant Director Edward Grace for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.