The EU General Affairs Council in Brussels has given its approval to the 46-page document outlining the mandate for the bloc’s post-Brexit trade negotiations with the UK.
The document will form the basis for negotiations from the EU perspective, which will be carried out by chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
It says that the EU's “envisaged agreement” on future trade with the UK “should uphold common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with Union standards as a reference point”.
The document adds that this should apply "in the areas of state aid, competition, state-owned enterprises, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change, relevant tax matters and other regulatory measures and practices in these areas”.
The need for a “level playing field” in such areas has long been mooted by EU officials, including European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who said following the approval of the mandate that the bloc was prepared to “build a close, ambitious partnership with the UK”.
The level playing field requirement is likely to prove a flashpoint during negotiations, with the UK government favouring a Canada-style free trade agreement based on zero tariffs, rebuffing the idea that a level playing field is necessary to secure a trade deal.
The preference for a deal in the same vein as CETA [the Canada agreement] has been explicitly aired by both prime minister Boris Johnson and chief UK negotiator David Frost recently.
However, Barnier has talked down the prospect of such an agreement, amid concerns that allowing the UK to trade and compete with the EU under those terms will lead to the bloc being undercut.
Another clash in negotiations is likely to centre around fishing rights, with EU states known to favour continued access to UK waters, something which Johnson opposes.
Trade negotiations will begin on March 2.