Blog: Trade deal edges closer as Brexit negotiations go virtual after positive COVID-19 test – MarketWatch

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (left) said one of his team has tested positive for COVID-19.


Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

A trade deal between the U.K. and the European Union is edging closer, despite negotiations moving online following a positive COVID-19 test.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “better progress” had been made in the last few days after “difficult weeks with very, very slow progress.” She added there was still “a lot of work to do” and said the “time pressure is high,” in a press conference on Friday.

The crunch talks in Brussels were suspended on Thursday after a member of the EU’s negotiation team tested positive for COVID-19.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he had agreed with his U.K. counterpart David Frost to “suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period.” Both teams will continue working “in full respect of guidelines,” Barnier added. The negotiations have since resumed in a virtual format.

The U.K. left the EU on Jan. 31 but the two sides must reach a deal over their future trading relationship before the transition period ends on Dec. 31. Talks over a post-Brexit trade deal have gone down to the wire, with both sides having said an agreement must be reached by mid November, in time to be ratified by the end of the year.

Read: Brexit trade deal ‘may not succeed’ before year’s end, U.K. negotiator warns

As negotiators from the U.K. and the EU headed to Brussels earlier this week, key issues, such as fishing rights and competition rules — with the EU demanding a “level playing field” — remained unresolved.

There has been “more movement” on the important issues in recent days, von der Leyen said.

“Within the frame of the level playing field, progress for example has been made with state aid but there are still quite some meters to the finish line so there’s a lot of work to do. Where the timelines are concerned, time pressure is high without any question at the moment,” she said.

She added: “The whole team is engaged and working tirelessly day and night to reach the natural deadline we have to be done by the end of the year. “

Also: Markets sleepwalk toward the end of Brexit talks

The pound
GBPUSD,
-0.11%

has climbed in recent days on optimism that a trade pact may be signed as early as next week, and was 0.1% higher on Friday, having dipped on Thursday.

Frost said: “I am in close contact with Michel Barnier about the situation. The health of our teams come first.” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wished the EU team member a “speedy recovery.”

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