March 2 (UPI) -- Britain and the European Union were to begin the first round of trade talks Monday following London's exit from the alliance a month ago.
British lead negotiator David Frost and EU counterpart Michael Barnier were scheduled for their initial meeting in Brussels Monday afternoon to start a nine-month process in which they will try to forge Britain's new trade relationship with the EU.
Monday's meeting was to be followed by a plenary session involving all delegates, followed by two days of bilateral talks focusing on a range of individual issues, including fishing rights -- a topic which has already caused international friction.
The publication of each side's trade manifestos last week revealed big differences which will need to be resolved quickly if the deal is to be reached within the time frame of Britain's post-EU transition period, during which the two sides are continuing their former relationship.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks a relationship similar to Canada's, which has mainly tariff-free access to the EU's market. Barnier, however, has ruled that out, saying Britain's close proximity and deep links to Europe make a Canada-style deal unworkable. Instead, Brussels is pushing for commitments from London to align its laws and regulations with Europe's -- what it calls the "level playing field."
The biggest obstacle, however, is likely to be EU fishing rights in Britain's coastal waters. Ireland and other EU members such as Denmark, France, Spain and the Netherlands are insisting on continued access to British waters.
The political atmosphere surrounding the talks is already tense. British International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said Monday London is prepared to walk away at the end of the transition period without a deal and revert to an Australian model, which most runs along basic World Trade Organization default rules.
"We want a deal with the EU on Canada-style terms, if we have to trade with the EU on Australia-style terms, we will," Truss said.
Johnson has said he will not extend the Dec. 31 deadline if negotiations are stalled, but the EU has warned it will not pressured into a signing any trade deal by any "artificial deadline" imposed by the British leader.