Aug. 21 (UPI) -- A free trade agreement between Britain and the European Union before a deadline in two months "seems unlikely," the bloc's chief negotiator said Friday after days of largely fruitless negotiations.
Michel Barnier told reporters in Belgium that a week-long negotiating session with British representative David Frost produced few signs of progress, and said both sides remain far apart on key issues -- including how fisheries would be governed once the Brexit transition period ends in January.
"Today at this stage, an agreement between the U.K. and the EU seems unlikely," Barnier said. "I simply do not understand why we are wasting valuable time."
Barnier said he's "disappointed" and "worried" that no draft agreement will be ready before the deadline in late October.
"Too often this week it felt as if we were going backwards more than forwards," he added.
If there's no agreement on Jan. 1, Britain and the EU will revert to default World Trade Organization rules, which would include higher tariffs on automobiles and agricultural products and strict border controls.
The EU wants a deal for Britain to commit to EU standards on issues like the environment, workers' rights and state aid in exchange for tariff-free access to the bloc's single market.
British negotiators, however, are pushing for a similar arrangement the alliance has with Canada, which provides tariff-free access without committing to EU rules.
The EU has said, however, that is not possible for Britain due to geographical reasons. It also is concerned that London is trying to cherry-pick benefits of the single market without following the same rules as EU states.
Frost pinned blame for the lack of progress on the EU's insistence that the fisheries issue be negotiated in parallel with the trade talks.
"The EU is still insisting not only that we must accept continuity with EU state aid and fisheries policy, but also that this must be agreed before any further substantive work can be done in any other area of the negotiation, including on legal texts," he said Friday. "This makes it unnecessarily difficult to make progress."
Frost reiterated Britain's preference for a Canada-style deal.
"We are seeking a relationship which ensures we regain sovereign control of our own laws, borders, and waters, and centered upon a trading relationship based on [a deal] like those the EU has concluded with a range of other international partners ... in areas such as aviation, scientific programs and law enforcement."