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Close cooperation in a broad range of areas

Association Agreements create a framework for close economic and political co-operation between the EU and third countries. They can be very broad and varied in purpose, scope and content, with trade as one element. AAs include co-operation in areas of mutual interest, such as security and defence, the environment, science and research.

Trade opportunities with regulatory approximation

An AA could be combined with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). DCFTAs offer access to the Single Market in specific areas, based on regulatory and legislative approximation of the third party with the EU. The case law of the Court of Justice of the EU must also be taken into account.

Participation in EU bodies and programmes

AAs allow participation by the third state in several EU agencies and programmes.

Governance and institutional framework

The governance and institutional framework for AAs is in principle free for the parties to determine, but in general involves at least three levels of governance: high-level political (annual Summit), general oversight (Association Council at ministerial level) and day-to-day management (Association Committee). The DCFTAs have a specific Trade Committee.

Dispute settlement

Dispute settlement takes place on a political level and then an arbitral level.

The UK’s future relationship with the EU

The UK does not yet know what its relationship with the EU will be after Brexit, when it will be a third state in relation to the EU. In all Brexit scenarios the UK Government will want to negotiate a future relations agreement with the EU. This is true whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal. These negotiations cannot begin until the UK has left the EU and is a ‘third country’.

A future relationship is likely to be based on some combination of an Association Agreement and a DCFTA.

Association Agreement model has been suggested

The UK and the EU have already suggested that a future relations agreement might take the form of an AA. The Political Declaration on the framework for future EU-UK relations (agreed by the EU and UK in November 2018 as part of the withdrawal ‘package’) envisages “an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation”. But it is not clear whether the Government of Boris Johnson will seek an AA with the EU.

It can take several years to agree an AA

It takes on average around six-and-a-half years to negotiate and implement an AA, either fully or provisionally. Under the November 2018 Withdrawal Agreement, the transition period in which a future relations agreement would be negotiated is one year and five months if the UK leaves on 31 October with a deal (to 31 December 2020, extendable once by up to two years).

If the UK leaves without a withdrawal agreement, the negotiating period is not limited by any transition period, but negotiations could be more difficult politically. In any Brexit scenario the UK’s starting point as a recently departed Member State means it would have close legislative alignment, so a head start technically, if not politically.

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