Since the Christmas Eve announcement of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), ACCA has been poring over the 1,247 pages of the deal. It remains a work in progress for all, writes ACCA chief executive Helen Brand

We are sure firms in the UK and across Europe will be doing much the same as we are, trying to understand what the devil in the detail means. This is very much ongoing work.

Our initial response is, therefore, a cautious welcome. We see opportunities ahead, but as many commentators have said since the deal’s publication, this is not the end and there will be more to come.

So while we believe the agreement brings a broad level of certainty for businesses in the UK, Europe and globally about the status of trade in goods and services and the movement of people and tariffs, there are still gaps that remain to be negotiated.

A key piece is the guidelines for arrangements on the recognition of professional qualifications – see page 770 onwards of the deal. It is disappointing to see here the future uncertainty for mutual recognition of professional qualifications, including those for accountancy. Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) should be encouraged, as they improve trade in services.

Given this situation, it is unclear how successful the mechanism for future MRAs will be, but ACCA will work tirelessly to ensure its current and future MRAs are forged in the best interest of its members and the profession. Thankfully, the ACCA Qualification continues to be relevant to the regulatory regime for statutory audit and accountancy in the EU and the UK. The ACCA Qualification is, and continues to be, recognised nationally within UK and Ireland for statutory audit, as well as in several European Economic Area (EEA) states. It is also recognised nationally within a number of EEA states for access to regulated accountancy bodies.

We are reminding our UK members operating in a regulated profession, such as statutory audit, that if they want to have access to a regulated role in an EEA country in the future, they must check with the relevant competent authority.

Work to be done

Looking more broadly, there is also more work to be done on this deal, especially for financial services, as there is a gap in the status of financial services’ equivalence, with further negotiations to commence with a deadline for 31 March 2021.

Temporary solutions are in place while these talks progress. And when it comes to trade in services, the deal has EU carve-outs about the scope for UK service providers to access their EU customers. So we wait to see what the impacts and effects will be for accountancy firms and their clients in this respect.

The good news is that between the UK and EU there are no tariffs and quota-free access for trading of goods. But this does not mean things are truly frictionless.

Our view is that the accountancy profession is prepared and adept at handling disruption and helping their clients navigate the new normal. This is where ACCA members can bring tangible value, acting as super-connectors to help deal with issues that are now bubbling up such as tax compliance. We know that many firms and the businesses they work with are looking at their operations, supply chains and the new trading rules as reality starts to bite.

What the UK economy and business need is long-term certainty, especially as the headwinds of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to inflict damage on confidence levels. Negotiations will continue, and so ACCA will keep on advocating for common global standards, open access to the profession, and shared recognition of professional accountants across international borders.