FTA UK & Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway (UK)

Thursday 8th July, trade ministers from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with the UK. Conclusion of negotiations on an FTA had been announced on 4th June, and Norway had published the text (English language starts at page 105).

The UK trade minister made a statement to Parliament (8th July) – here.

Norway’s minister of trade and industry remarks at 4th June press conference on the matter – here, Norway’s press release (4th June) here.

The signed legal text will be published in the UK shortly, along with the Explanatory Memorandum that is a statutory requirement under the Constitutional Reform and Governance (CRaG) Act.

The Explanatory Memorandum provides the context, explaining what the new treaty is meant to achieve, what legislation (if any) will be needed to implement it, when it will take effect, the financial implications, and the territorial application of the agreement.

I will blog post again when the further documents are published.

EU announcements re NI Protocol (Northern Ireland)

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland (often referred to in the UK as the Northern Ireland Protocol), as an integral part of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, was agreed jointly and ratified by both the EU and the UK. It has been in force since 1 February 2020 and has legal effects under international law.

The EU has announced the following re Northern Ireland (as respects the NI Protocol):

(1) the EU extends the non-application of third country rules (grace period) for meat products to 30th September (1st October is the date when the UK will apply its own ban on chilled meat imports) – the EU declaration is here – the UK declaration is here.

This will mean that meat products can continue to move from Britain (a third country in EU terms) to Northern Ireland (a part of the UK subject to the NI Protocol).

This temporary solution is subject to strict conditions. For example, the meat products that are subject to the channelling procedure referred to in the United Kingdom’s unilateral declaration must remain under the control of the Northern Ireland competent authorities at all stages of that procedure. These meat products must be accompanied by official health certificates issued by the UK competent authorities, can exclusively be sold to end consumers in supermarkets located in Northern Ireland, and must be packed and labelled accordingly. (EU declaration)

(2) the EU will change its own rules so that regulatory compliance functions for medicines authorised by the UK for the Northern Ireland market, in accordance with the NI Protocol, may be located in Britain, subject to specific conditions ensuring that the medicines concerned are not further distributed in the EU Internal Market – the European Commission will put forward a legislative proposal in the early autumn (the grace period runs out at the end of 2021)

(3) the EU will facilitate the movements of guide dogs accompanying persons travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland – this is communicated to the UK authorities and it is for the Northern Irish competent authorities to define the details for its implementation on the ground

(4) the EU waives the obligation to show the motor insurance Green Card for drivers from the UK – applicable for Northern Irish motorists crossing the border into Ireland (not for British motorists travelling to Ireland)

(5) the EU has removed the need for re-tagging when animals move multiple times between Britain and Northern Ireland during their life – the European Commission adopted an implementing act to that effect on 29 June 2021 (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/1064).

The EU also announces the European Commission is working on a regulatory solution to facilitate the swift return of livestock to Northern Ireland from exhibitions or trade fairs in Britain, so that the animals concerned will not have to wait for a minimum residency period in Britain – the relevant delegated and implementing acts will be adopted in October 2021.

The EU also announces work is ongoing on a solution regarding the risk control of scrapie, to facilitate the movement of sheep and goats between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (EU)

In March, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on a WTO-compatible carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM). WTO rules mean an imported product cannot be subject to tougher measures than products produced domestically. The EU’s March CBAM Resolution is here.

The EU’s CBAM would be part of a broader EU industrial strategy and cover all imports of products and commodities covered by the EU ETS, adding a carbon tax to the import of these products or adding a mechanism mirroring the EU ETS. The preference is for a mechanism mirroring the EU ETS – importers would buy permits for imports of certain goods – with countries of similar carbon price e.g. Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and possibly Switzerland, exempted.

By 2023, and following an impact assessment, the Resolution calls for CBAM to cover the power sector and energy-intensive industrial sectors like cement, steel, aluminium, oil refinery, paper, glass, chemicals and fertilisers.

Specifically in para 10, the Resolution –

10. Reiterates that the introduction of a CBAM should be part of a package of legislative measures to ensure the swift reduction of GHG emissions deriving from EU production and consumption, in particular by scaling up energy efficiency and renewable energies; stresses that the CBAM should be coupled with policies aimed at enabling and promoting investments in low-carbon industrial processes, including through innovative financing tools, the new Circular Economy Action Plan and a broader EU industrial policy that is both environmentally ambitious and socially fair, with a view to steering a decarbonised reindustrialisation of Europe to create quality jobs at a local level and ensure the competitiveness of the European economy, while fulfilling the EU’s climate ambition and offering predictability and certainty to secure investments towards climate neutrality;

And at para 16, the Resolution –

16. Considers that in order to address the potential risk of carbon leakage [competition from countries with lax climate rules] while complying with WTO rules, the CBAM needs to charge the carbon content of imports in a way that mirrors the carbon costs paid by EU producers; stresses that carbon pricing under the CBAM should mirror the dynamic evolution of the price of EU allowances under the EU ETS while ensuring predictability and less volatility in the price of carbon; is of the opinion that importers should buy allowances from a separate pool of allowances to the EU ETS whose carbon price corresponds to that of the day of the transaction in the EU ETS; underlines that the introduction of the CBAM is only one of the measures in the implementation of the European Green Deal objectives and must also be accompanied by the necessary measures in non-ETS sectors as well as an ambitious reform of the EU ETS to ensure it delivers meaningful carbon pricing that fully respects the polluter pays principle, and to contribute to the necessary GHG emissions reduction in line with the EU’s updated 2030 climate target and 2050 net zero GHG emissions target, including by addressing the linear reduction factor, a rebasing of the cap and assessing the potential need for a carbon floor price;

And at para 32, the Resolution –

32. Acknowledges that the CBAM could be implemented either as an extension of the current regime of customs duties or as a complementary scheme within the existing EU ETS framework; emphasises that both approaches could be entirely consistent with an own resources initiative;

The European Commission is expected to present a legislative proposal on a CBAM in July 2021 as part of the European Green Deal.

In early June, the first draft of the EU’s CBAM legislative proposal became public (it ‘leaked’ essentially).

Under the current draft, importation of products covered by the CBAM would be carried out by “authorized declarants” who would lodge “CBAM declarations” annually. These declarations would reflect direct and indirect GHG emissions embedded in the imported products. Regulated entities (importers) would then surrender a corresponding amount of “CBAM certificates.”

The proposal identifies a preference for the declaration of an actual installation-specific value of the specific embedded emissions of an imported good rather than using default values. Each authorized declarant would ensure that the declared embedded emissions are verified by an independent verifier. In the situation where actual GHG emission values could not be verified—for example, as a result of the authorized declarant’s failure to submit the required information—default values would be used to determine the number of CBAM certificates to be surrendered. Default values are proposed to be set at a relatively high level corresponding to the emissions of the 10 percent worst performing sites in the EU for each of the processes involved in the production of goods.

The proposal provides for the possibility of offsetting the cost compliance with the CBAM against a carbon price paid in the country of origin of the imported good. Declarants would apply for compensation—i.e., a reduction in the number of certificates to be required—if a carbon price had already been paid in the country of origin for the embedded emissions in the imported goods.

Further details are in this Mayer Brown explainer – here, which also notes that the actual legislative proposal might be significantly altered.

I will post again when the legislative proposal is issued.

Covid-19 Vaccine Passport (EU)

UPDATE : this was (and is still technically) known as the EU COVID digital certificate – healthcareIT information is here.

From 1 July, the European Union will make available its COVID-19 vaccine passport for all EU citizens and residents, as well as for specific categories of travellers from third countries. All member states are expected to start issuing vaccine passports, at least partially, Switzerland and Iceland included.

The EU COVID-19 Vaccine Passport/Certificate is a one-piece document that can be issued to a traveller in both a paper and digital format.

Depending on the traveller’s status, there are three types of EU’s COVID-19 passport launched.

• Vaccination passport

• Test certificate

• Recovery certificate

Those holding such a document will be able to travel throughout Europe without the need to quarantine or test for COVID-19 (though the Member States may impose such restrictions on particular countries with a higher COVID-19 rate).

EU COVID Vaccination Passport

The EU COVID Vaccination Passport will be issued to all those who have been fully vaccinated against the Coronavirus, with one of the four vaccines approved by the European Medicine Agency (EMA), which are:

• Comirnaty (BioNTech, Pfizer)

• Moderna

• Vaxzevria (previously COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, Oxford)

• Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)

The certificate will prove that its holder has been vaccinated while also containing additional information on the vaccine, as when the doses were administered, who is the manufacturer, etc.

The Commission has also permitted the Member States to issue certificates for travellers vaccinated with vaccines other than those approved by the EMA. However, the decision is up to each individual Member State if they want to permit entry for those vaccinated with such vaccines or not.

EU COVID Recovery Certificate

Travellers who have recently been infected with COVID-19, and recovered from it, should also be permitted to travel with an EU COVID travel certificate.

The EU Digital Covid Certificate of recovery confirms that the holder has recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection following a positive test. It should be issued no earlier than 11 days after the first positive test,” the European Commission explains.

However, the Commission also points out that tests that detect if a person developed antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 – also known as antibodies tests – cannot be used to obtain a recovery certificate.

EU COVID test certificate

All travellers who test for COVID-19 with PCR or Rapid Antigen test, and result negative, can obtain an EU COVID certificate.

A separate certificate will be issued for each test and will not contain any data from previous certificates,” the Commission notes.

The EU has not yet come with a common timeframe within which these tests must be taken, therefore, it is up to the Member States to decide.

More information is here.

EU Eco-design & labelling rules (Britain)

The UK government has decided to introduce EU Ecodesign and Energy labelling rules for lighting products in Britain in 2021 (if there is parliamentary time).

The UK government decision is set out here, and here.

In the EU from 1 September 2021, the existing rules under Regulation (EU) No 874/2012 will be repealed and replaced by new energy labelling requirements for light sources under Regulation on energy labelling for light sources (EU) 2019/2015

The new EU rules will use a scale from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient), the new labels will give information on the energy consumption, expressed in kWh per 1000 hours and have a QR-code that links to more information in an online database.

In the EU, with the new regulation, most halogen lamps and the traditional fluorescent tube lighting, which are common in offices, will be phased-out from September 2023 onwards.

Note : the UK government earlier decided to rescale the energy labels for some energy-related products from 1 March 2021, following the EU. The legislation is not yet adjusted. The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) issued technical notices, and the UK government updated the information on gov.uk and responded to email queries from businesses. I blog posted at the time about this change. The updated guidance is found in the Brexit Guidance List on subscribers’ Cardinal Environment Limited EHS Legislation Registers & Checklists.

Note (2) : the EU rules will apply in Northern Ireland by virtue of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

End of EU Pi-marked TPE in GB (Britain)

The UK government has today commenced consultation on the ending of recognition of EU Pi-marked TPE (transportable pressure equipment) in Britain.

The proposal is to amend the 2009 Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations to require that, in future, TPE being placed on the GB market is conformity-assessed by:

• a GB-appointed body and affixed with a Rho marking

or

• a notified body established in Northern Ireland, affixed with a Pi marking plus the indication ‘UK(NI)’.

This would effectively end recognition of EU Pi-marked TPE in GB, although TPE already on the GB market before this amendment comes into force may remain in circulation.

The proposal is that this change will come into effect between 1 January 2022 and 1 January 2023.

The consultation invites comments on the impact of ending recognition of EU Pi-marked TPE in GB. The findings from this consultation will be used to inform a decision on when the amendment should come into effect.

The consultation is here. It is a short consultation that will run until 30 June.

Equal Pay Proposal (EU)

On 4th March, the European Commission presented a proposal on pay transparency – here.

The legislative proposal focuses on two core elements of equal pay:

(1) measures to ensure pay transparency for workers and employers, and

(2) better access to justice for victims of pay discrimination.

Further information is here.

NB: this Blog does not focus on Employment Law issues.

UK-EU Future Dealings (UK)

The parameters of economic and internal security co-operation between the UK and EU are defined by three key documents:

* the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA – the ‘deal’ signed on Christmas Eve 2020);

* the Withdrawal Agreement (WA), which lays out the future relationship for trade in goods between Northern Ireland, Britain and the EU; and

* the UK Internal Market Act, supplemented by ‘common frameworks’, which set out how the UK proposes to maintain internal coherence between the four nations of the UK after the loss of the EU framework within which devolution was originally conceived.

A new unit is established in No.10, under Lord Frost (the 2019-2020 Brexit negotiator). This unit has a strategic role, both on the approach to Europe and the EU as well as wider international policy.

The TCA establishes a complex governance model – at the top political level, the TCA will be overseen by a new Partnership Council. Not dissimilar to the Joint Committee established in the Withdrawal Agreement, it will be co-chaired by a representative from the European Commission (recently confirmed to be Maroš Šefčovič, also co-chair of the Joint Committee) and a minister from the UK government (yet to be announced). Its role includes:

• Oversight: The Partnership Council will be responsible for overseeing the application and implementation of the TCA. As part of this responsibility, it will be able to set up or disband specialised committees, delegating powers where necessary.

• Amendment: For the next four years, the Partnership Council will be able to amend the TCA, or supplement agreements, to correct errors or address omissions. But
the power goes beyond just a tidying up function and has the potential to be quite wide-ranging. For example, the Partnership Council will be able to decide to amend some parts of the agreement by mutual agreement, including parts of the chapters and annexes on rules of origin, customs and energy.

• Dispute settlement: For most parts of the TCA, the first step in the dispute resolution process is for the two sides to enter into ‘consultations’, which can take place either in one of the specialised committees or the Partnership Council. If a dispute cannot be resolved through consultation at the political level, the complaining party will have the option of requesting an arbitration tribunal and go through the resolution process.

NB : This process will not apply to all parts of the TCA. There are separate dispute arrangements in areas such as law enforcement and judicial co-operation, fisheries, and parts of the level playing field (LPF), including subsidies, labour and social standards, and environment and climate standards. Other parts do not have a formal dispute arrangement, including competition, tax, SMEs and cultural property.

The TCA also establishes the Trade Partnership Committee to oversee the trade
part of the agreement, with 10 trade-specialised committees, which will oversee specific aspects of the trading provisions, including on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS), regulatory co-operation, and the LPF. There will be a further eight specialised committees to oversee other aspects of the TCA, including on social security co-ordination and law enforcement, and judicial co-operation. Together, these amount to nearly double the number of committees included in the EU–Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Four working groups are also established in the TCA to support the work of specific specialised committees. These are on organic products, motor vehicles and parts, medicinal products (supervised by the trade specialised committee on technical barriers to trade) and social security co-ordination (supervised by the Specialised Committee on Social Security Coordination). These groups have been set up where it is already clear that greater co-ordination or discussion will be needed.

The structure is not fixed. The Trade Partnership Committee and eight specialised committees can establish and dissolve working groups where they agree it is necessary to support the functioning of the agreement.

The TCA also allows the EU and UK parliaments to set up a new ‘parliamentary partnership assembly’ to exchange and request information on the implementation of the agreement from the Partnership Council as well as to make recommendations. The two sides will also establish a civil society forum and are expected to set up domestic advisory groups.

The Cabinet Office confirmed this morning (in questions to it, in Parliament) that the Partnership Council and various committees will be stood up next month, June.

Medical Devices Regulation (EU)

The new EU Medical Devices Regulation 2017/745 (MDR) applies from (yesterday) 26 May, after a year’s postponement. The MDR is here.

The MDR tightens controls on high-risk devices such as implants and requires the consultation of a pool of EU level experts before placing medical devices on the market. Clinical evaluations, investigations and the notified bodies that approve the certification of medical devices will be subject to tighter controls.

The new European database of medical devices (EUDAMED) will contain information about each medical device on the market, including economic operators and certificates issued by notified bodies. Each device will have a unique device identifier so that it can be found in EUDAMED. Labelling will be more detailed and electronic manuals will increase user-friendliness. Implant patients will receive an implant card with all the essential information.

Once devices are available on the market, manufacturers will have to collect data about the devices’ performance. EU countries will closely coordinate their vigilance and market surveillance.

The MDR is complemented by the Regulation on in vitro diagnostic medical devices (2017/746/EU) which applies a year later on 26 May 2022.

Q&A about the MDR is here.

Environment Bill (announced additions) (UK)

The long awaited and highly significant Environment Bill is revived in the current Parliament session. I Blog posted earlier that it would be.

The UK government has made 3 announcements in May –

(1) new legal duties on water companies and the government will be inserted to reduce sewage discharged into waterways – announcement is here

(2) a new additional legally binding target for species abundance for 2030 will be inserted – George Eustice Speech is here

Environmental targets in the Bill are summarised in the October 2020 updated August 2020 policy paper – here.

(3) a new power will be taken to refocus the Habitats Regulations – see George Eustice Speech

[The George Eustice Speech also makes further announcements on consultation and strategy publication in the areas of Nature, Peat and Trees.]

The Bill, as we see it now, was originally revived from the previous May Government after the 2019 general election.

In 2020, the majority of the 2019-2020 Bill provisions were substantially the same as its predecessor, although a number of minor technical changes had been made to the drafting. The substantive additions to the Bill (at the start of 2020) were :

• a requirement on Ministers to make a statement to Parliament setting out the effect of new primary environmental legislation on existing levels of environmental protection (Clause 19); and

• a requirement on the Secretary of State to conduct a two-yearly review of the significant developments in international legislation on the environment, and to publish a report on their findings every two years (Clause 20).

The Commons Library analysed the Environment Bill in March 2020 – here.

Most of the Bill extends to England and Wales and applies in England. There are some parts that extend to the whole of the UK or apply to specific UK nations. For example, there are specific provisions on environmental governance, managing waste and water quality that extend and apply to Northern Ireland only. Provisions on waste including producer responsibility, resource efficiency and exporting waste extend and apply to the whole of the UK, as do the provisions on environmental recall of motor vehicles, and the provisions on the regulation of chemicals.

Note – DEFRA has current consultations relating to the Environment Bill –

(1) Consultation on the Draft Policy Statement on Environmental Principles – here.

(2) Consultation on Introducing a Deposit Return Scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (a Deposit Return Scheme is already legislated for in Scotland) – here.