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Falkland Islands back in spotlight after exclusion from Brexit deal

By Elena Cavallone
Copyright  PABLO PORCIUNCULA BRUNE/AFP or licensors

The Falkland Islands are back in the spotlight after being excluded from the UK-EU trade deal, meaning the British overseas territory will not benefit from commercial, tax and customs advantages that have been negotiated.

Products coming from the islands to the EU could now face tariffs, following the UK's departure from the bloc.

It’s a major concern for the economy of the islands, which exports 90% of its fish to Europe. Local residents hope to eventually maintain the status quo, as 60% of the local government revenue comes from the fishery-related sector and 40% of GDP is dependent on this special relationship with the EU.

Teslyn Barkman, a member of the Falklands Legislative Assembly told Euronews their request is incredibly simple: "We just want to continue to be able to trade in a way that benefits us and benefits the EU. So, from the EU our calamari is enjoyed in Italy, in France, and everywhere someone can go and enjoy some gorgeous top-quality squid and we want to keep these opportunities flowing."

The EU treaties recognise the Falkland Islands as a British overseas territory, although people living on the island were not allowed to vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

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In a message addressed to residents of the Falklands for Christmas, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the EU was intransigent when it came to excluding the islands from the trade deal.

However, the European Commission has made clear that the UK was not permitted to negotiate on behalf of overseas territories, meaning that the local government will have to strike its own conditions with the European bloc.

"It was indeed disappointing that we were left out of the deal but with the EU we could benefit from even more flexibility than the UK” Barkman told Euronews.

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Yet this exclusion has been warmly welcomed by Argentinian authorities, who have historically claimed the islands as their own - Las Malvinas.

Last February, Argentinian President Alberto Fernández embarked on a diplomatic tour of Europe, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He called for the exclusion of the islands from the Brexit deal and his efforts seem to have paid off.

Argentine diplomats now believe there is a good chance talks over the almost two centuries-long dispute could resume.

"We aim at having the support of all countries," Daniel Fernando Filmus, Argentinian state secretary for the Malvinas told Euronews.

"Argentina is not asking everyone to agree though, but rather that the United Kingdom sits down to discuss this matter, in the same way it did with Spain over Gibraltar. It’s not possible that for the last 188 years a part of Argentina has been usurped by a colonial power".

It was a dispute which turned to war in 1982, when the Argentine military staked its claim by invading the islands, eventually being defeated by the British army.

During the war, EU countries showed support to the UK, but the question has been raised as to whether loyalties could shift towards Argentina now that there is no British influence in the bloc.

Christian Ghymers, President of the Interdisciplinary Institute for relations between Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean explained to Euronews that in the future the EU will have to discuss the issue, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be a "common position" easily found.

"This issue was not debated during the Brexit talks, although we know that certain countries are favorable towards Argentina: Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Austria, and Greece," Ghymers said.

Those are in fact the European countries in 2019 voted in favor of a UN motion that urged the UK to withdraw from the Chagos islands and allow their reunification with Mauritius.

However, Spain finds itself in a tricky situation: if on one hand, it shares with Buenos Aires the same kind of claims against the UK over Gibraltar, on the other hand, it is the country to which it is exported the biggest number of squid from Falklands/Malvinas.

Mr. Ghymers believes that Argentina has now bigger leverage to negotiate in the framework of a future Mercosur trade deal with the EU. It could include the fish coming from the islands.

“With Argentina holding now Mercosur presidency and Portugal chairing the European Council there could be talks in this direction”, he says.

Brexit has left many issues up in the air and tones in the regions are already rising. In January British armed forces have started military exercises in this region.

What is sure is that the UK is not willing to give up territory, which is strategically important for its proximity to Antarctica.

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