Parties to free trade agreements (FTAs) typically recognise that movement of people is necessary to facilitate trade, particularly for services businesses. However, they are often reluctant to dispense with requirements imposed by their own domestic immigration regimes. Based on the draft texts published by the UK and the EU earlier this year, the proposed EU-UK FTA is unlikely to be an exception to this general rule. This means that business travel between the UK and the EU will probably be subject to additional red tape from 1 January 2021, even if there is a deal.
Short term business visitors
Both drafts contain provisions allowing "short term business visitors" to travel without work permits or the imposition of an "economic needs test" – which is obviously welcome from a business perspective. However, the list of activities which those visitors can undertake is likely to be extremely limited.
Neither draft contains proposed wording on permitted activities, but the equivalent provisions in the EU-Canada FTA merely allow visits for the purposes of, for example, negotiating contracts, undertaking market research or receipt of (but not delivery of) training. Subject to minor exceptions, they do not cover the performance of any services to be carried out by the business visitor - so where, for example, a contract has been concluded by a UK business visitor by travelling to meet the customer in the EU, the expectation would be that the contract would actually be performed by staff back in the UK. In terms of length of stay, we would not expect the draft FTA to go any further than the current Schengen position for non-EU visitors i.e. no longer than 90 days in every 180 days.