EU ruling could complicate new trade deals _ including UK's

Any post Brexit trade will now require the approval of the EU's 38 national and regional authorities

The EU-Singapore deal will now have to be ratified in all 28 members of the bloc, including approval in more than 40 national and regional parliaments. A ruling giving the EU exclusive competence for the deal would have paved the way for a smoother United Kingdom deal, eliminating the risk of a repeat of the near-collapse of the EU-Canada trade deal, which was disrupted by Belgium's Walloon parliament.

You have to look no further than the EU-Canada accord, which was almost scuttled previous year by a Belgian region, to see that "approval within each of the EU's member states can be a significant stumbling block in finalizing mixed agreements", said Alice Darling, a lawyer in Clifford Chance's trade team.

The Luxembourg-based court has ruled that a free trade deal reached with Singapore in 2013 must be ratified by member states. "The commission will now carefully assess and analyse the opinion of the Court and will continue engaging with the European Parliament and member states on the way forward".

A Government spokeswoman said: "We note the court's opinion". "The European Commission has been over-stepping its competence when it comes to free trade, using these deals to sneak through changes".

In those areas, competence is shared with the European Union member states meaning that any deal including those fields has to be ratified by all 38 national and regional parliaments of the European Union members.

Having lost its effort to sideline national capitals from signing off on trade accords, Brussels now has to convince as many as 38 national and regional parliaments to ratify the Singapore trade pact.

In December, a senior European Union judge had issued a non-binding opinion on the case, which held that the European Union shared competences with member states on issues such as transport, some intellectual property rights and labour and environmental standards.

"This doesn't mean that the fight to end those so-called trade agreements is over".

The EU is now negotiating free trade deals with nations like the United States and Japan, and would need a free trade deal with Britain, once the divorce proceedings with the current member state are done.

For now, MTI wants to work with the European Union to have the pact "provisionally applied so that businesses can utilise the parts of the agreement that are under the EU's exclusive competence". The Commission has the power to negotiate everything else - the movement of goods and services, transportation, direct investment, intellectual property, antitrust rules.

According to the European Court of Justice, while most areas covered by the EU-Singapore free trade agreement do fall within the EU's exclusive competence, there are areas which require ratification by the member states.

Alice Darling, a member of the trade team at London law firm Clifford Chance, said the judgment could make securing a U.K. -EU trade deal after Brexit a lengthy process.

The split of competencies proposed last December by an EU Court of Justice advocate-general was markedly different - Eleanor Sharpston had pushed for the EU to be required to seek member states' approval in more areas.

"With so many hoops to jump through, Brussels may never strike a trade deal again".

Professor Gavin Barrett, of the Sutherland School of Law at UCD, said the ECJ ruling made securing a trade deal much more hard for the UK.

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