"Europeanism has gone out of fashion in London, and the free trade area is back in force with its destructive power"

Grandstand. London made public on May 19 its draft "full free trade agreement" on which it wishes to base its future relationship with the European Union. The concept of a free trade area is both an economic term – it designates an area where internal customs barriers are removed – and a political project.

Launched in 1956, the Free Trade Area – with a capital Z – was a project designed by London to complement, or rather to thwart, the European Economic Community then in negotiation, and which would lead to the European Union as we know it .

The Free Trade Area was a fairly simple agreement: all customs barriers to trade in industrial products were to eventually disappear between all the countries of the Western bloc. It made it possible to maintain the unity of the Western bloc because most European countries did not wish to accept the binding rules of the European communities.

Protectionist and socializing Europe

For London, the Zone fits perfectly into Churchill's theory of the three circles, according to which Great Britain must be at the center of three sets, the North American Atlantic region of the United States, the Commonwealth and Europe.

A free trade zone leaves each partner free in its foreign trade policy, and therefore authorizes London to conclude an agreement with Washington or New Delhi without consulting Brussels. It was fundamental at the time, and it remains so today, when (Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom) Theresa May as Boris Johnson extolled the "Global Britain" which would re-emerge, freed from protectionist and socializing Europe. Liam Fox, Theresa May's Minister of Commerce, had estimated in January 2018 that the United Kingdom could join the trans-Pacific free trade area then in negotiation.

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Facing the Free Trade Area stood the future European Union, which was in 1956 known as the "Common Market", precisely because it was an organization based on a more ambitious conception of the unified economic area to be created. In the Common Market, as in today’s Union, liberalization must concern all products, including agricultural products, and is accompanied by the harmonization of certain laws to avoid excessive distortions of competition.

Three provisions were in 1956, and are still, very important for the French: first, specific provisions for certain sectors which must be the subject of special protections, notably agriculture; then a single foreign trade policy in order to have more weight in international negotiations with powerful partners like the United States (and today China); and, finally, harmonization of certain specific social legislation. Since the 1970s, this field has then extended to anti-discrimination, environmental and health legislation.

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