COVID 19 and Brexit are changing our lives. How is the UK going to cope with all these new trade agreements ? Trading places from yesterday to tomorrow.

Once before I took a train (and ferry) to an unknown destination, before the Channel Tunnel existed. On my first day in the European Commission in Brussels, the Assistant to the Director General for Development asked me what the Lome Convention was. I knew it was not a rock band. It was a trade agreement.

We want you to figure out its Gattability. If we could not get it past the General Agreement Trade and Tariffs, the GATT, then it would not be Gattable or gettable.
So I asked, since the GATT Division in DG 1 (External Affairs) knows all about it why not ask them ? Ah, because they are the enemy! In the old European Commission to have an official meeting with someone in another DG was a big step. My British answer to this was lunch. Lunch is not an official meeting. So I asked the Head of the GATT Division what to do. And he told me.

Later the Australians came to negotiate a trade deal now that the British had gone off and joined the Common Market. I represented DG VIII at a lunch with the Aussies with Sir Christopher Soames, who was in charge of European External Affairs.

Amidst adverse comments that Sir Christopher did not even eat his asparagus with a knife and fork, but waved it around, dipping it in the sauce and slurping it down, a very French agriculture official from DG VI explained that we already "ad a lot of butter and sheeps" (pronounced chips). We didn't need any more.
These Australian trades unionists had obviously not been to the right kind of school. "If you don't want our bloody butter then we don't want your bloody shoes". So now I was becoming a trade expert.

Later I attended Boards of the United Nations Conference Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Which gave me time to work out that it could also spell Under No Circumstances Take Any Decisions. I was bored stiff. But I was gaining experience.

Suddenly I was on the front line. Discretely gather the leading Group B Delegates (that's us, the West, as opposed to the Group of 77, that's the rest). Get a consensus to support the European position. I discretely pulled the table over in the Palais des Nations coffee shop in Geneva, when the glass top, which was not fastened to its base, came off and loudly smashed to pieces. Ah, there's the European Commission doing a deal with the Group B.

Don't worry darling, said the waitress, they do it all the time. Years later when I was Team Leader for the Indonesia-EU preparatory bilateral talks I was very careful with the glass tables. Experience is a wonderful thing. You can't get it all from books. Maybe I could avoid smashing the glass tables next time.


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