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2020-12-26 — nytimes.com

``British distributors, spared the calamity of a no-deal separation, were nevertheless scrambling to prepare the first of hundreds of thousands of new export certifications to allow their meat, fish and dairy to be sold to the bloc. British food, once exempt from such burdensome checks, now faces the same inspections as European imports from countries like Chile or Australia.

Britain's services sector -- encompassing not only London's powerful financial industry, but also lawyers, architects, consultants and others -- was largely left out of the 1,246-page deal, despite the sector accounting for 80 percent of British economic activity.

The deal also did little to assuage European migrants, some of whom left Britain during the pandemic and are now struggling to determine whether they need to rush back to establish a right to settle in Britain before the split is finalized on Dec. 31.

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Negotiators have not formally published the voluminous trade deal, though both sides have offered summaries, leaving analysts and ordinary citizens uncertain about some details even as lawmakers in Britain and Europe prepare to vote on it in a matter of days.

But it had long been clear that the agreement would offer the City of London, a hub for international banks, asset managers, insurance firms and hedge funds, few assurances about future trade across the English Channel. Britain sells roughly 30 billion pounds, or $40 billion, of financial services to the European Union each year, profiting from an integrated market that makes it easier in some cases to sell services from one member country to another than it is to sell services from one American state to another.

The new trade deal does smooth the flow of goods across British borders. But it leaves financial firms without the biggest benefit of European Union membership: the ability to easily offer services to clients across the region from a single base. This has long allowed a bank in London to provide loans to a business in Venice, or trade bonds for a company in Madrid.

That loss is especially painful for Britain, which ran a surplus of £18 billion, or $24 billion, on trade in financial and other services with the European Union in 2019, but a deficit of £97 billion, or $129 billion, on trade in goods.

"The result of the deal is that the European Union retains all of its current advantages in trading, particularly with goods, and the U.K. loses all of its current advantages in the trade for services," said Tom Kibasi, the former director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, a research institute. "The outcome of this trade negotiation is precisely what happens with most trade deals: The larger party gets what it wants and the smaller party rolls over."

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After Jan. 1, the sale of services, once assured, will hang on patchwork decisions by European regulators about whether Britain's new financial regulations are close enough to their own to be trusted. While London's expertise is difficult to match, putting its financial and service firms in a strong position to weather the storm, some obstacles are inevitable. Already, Britons living in Europe who have bank accounts in Britain have been told their accounts will be closed.

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In announcing the trade deal this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain acknowledged it offered "not as much" access for financial firms "as we would have liked." But he was not as straightforward about the difficulties facing even British retailers under the deal, analysts said.

In promising that there were "no non-tariff barriers" to selling goods after Brexit, he ignored the tens of millions of customs declarations, health assessments and other checks that businesses will now be responsible for.

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Next to a no-deal split, involving enormous logjams at the borders and deep uncertainty for businesses, the agreement was a salve. But even with such a deal, the path forward is uncertain.

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