Monday, January 11, 2010

Trade Policy plans of the EU Trade Commissioner designate

The following are the Trade Policy plans of the EU Trade Commission designate for Trade Mr. Karel de Gucht, as he describes them in his written reply (PE431.166, pp 5-7 of the English version) to the written questions submitted to him by the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade as part of the confirmation hearings for the new College of Commissioners (Barroso II).

"Policy-related questions
4. What are the three main priorities you intend to pursue as part of your proposed portfolio, taking into account, where relevant, the financial, economic and social crisis and concerns related to sustainable development?"

Mr. de Gucht points out that throughout his political career, he has had "a long-standing commitment to open markets backed up by a rules-based international trading system. This combination can help to ensure that trade resumes its role as an engine of growth and job creation, pulling both the EU and our partners around the world out of the current crisis."

This leads him to three priorities.

"1) The Doha Development Agenda (DDA). The EU has for decades been one of the
strongest supporters of the multilateral trade architecture. We continue to need and
advocate a global, effective and enforceable system of rules for open trade. This is why
we must continue to push for the rapid conclusion of the DDA (Ed. Note: Doha Development Agenda) negotiations on the basis of progress so far, even if certain WTO Members are not yet able to fully engage on all core issues at this stage. A successful deal would provide a much needed boost to the global economy, helping to create jobs both in the EU and in the countries of our trading partners.

Finalising the DDA would also send a clear signal of the global trade community's capacity to act and of the effectiveness of multilateral institutions. It would build on the crucial role that the WTO has played recently – with strong EU support – in helping to prevent the protectionist spiral seen in the Great Depression.

2) We must complement the multilateral system by strengthening key bilateral and regional relationships. This is because bilateral agreements can go further and faster in promoting openness and integration, by tackling issues which are not ready for multilateral
discussion and by preparing the ground for the next round of multilateral negotiations.

Many key issues, including investment, public procurement, competition, intellectual
property, and other regulatory questions, which are currently insufficiently covered by the
WTO, can be addressed in such agreements. This would mean concluding Free Trade Agreements or similar types of agreements with amongst others India, ASEAN countries, Ukraine, Canada, Euromed, but also Mercosur.

In addition, we will also need to take forward our relations with key economic players, such as, for instance, the US, China, Japan or Russia. One way to do this would be to address issues of interest to both sides, including trade, through "strategic economic partnerships" which would also place a strong emphasis on a forward looking agenda to avoid future barriers to trade and investment. I will have a coordinating responsibility for the Transatlantic Economic
Council with the US and for the High Level Dialogue with China. Partnerships with other
major countries may be developed on a similar basis.

3) Finally, I intend to work, together with my fellow Commissioners, the Parliament, the
Council and wider stakeholders to ensure that trade policy is working for people, both in the EU and elsewhere, especially in developing countries.

Trade policy must be an integral part of this Commission's vision of Europe in 2020.

This means that trade must be put at the service of the broader policy goals pursued by the EU, both internally and externally and deliver results for our citizens.

This means ensuring that trade delivers choice and lower prices for consumers and businesses, helping Europe to remain competitive at home and in global markets.

But we also need to ensure that trade policy works in a way that helps rather than hinders legitimate social and environmental concerns, both in the EU and abroad.

Our trade policy must harness the economic benefits of trade liberalisation, while promoting European values such as human rights, social justice and the protection of the environment. The size and interest of the EU market provides us with leverage to promote this broader agenda and we have already seen results, for example, in sustainable development provisions in new agreements.

As outgoing development Commissioner, I am well placed to know that trade policy cannot be the answer for all development challenges, but it is a powerful instrument of EU policy and I will ensure that it contributes to improving the lives of the poor. This means finalising the negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements in Africa and the Pacific, and subsequently monitoring their progress to ensure they realise their full potential."

The next (and last) question of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade:
"5. What are the specific legislative and non-legislative initiatives you intend to put forward, and according to what timetable? What specific commitments can you make regarding in particular the committees' priorities and requests attached hereto which would fall within your portfolio? How would you personally ensure the good quality of legislative proposals?"

The Commissioner designate for Trade replied:

"Trade Policy is an area with relatively little legislative work as such; the major part of
initiatives is related to trade agreements, with third countries or within the WTO framework.
In the next year, we are likely to see the signature of several Trade Agreements, which will then have to be approved by Parliament: the signature of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Korea is expected to take place in the spring of 2010, whilst we also hope to be able to initial bilateral deals with Peru and Colombia, as part of the Andean Community, and perhaps with Central-America, depending on the political situation in Honduras.

We are also working towards the signature of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Iraq.

In terms of timing, it is difficult to say exactly when the Parliament would be called upon to give its consent to each of these.

I also expect a number of interim Economic Partnership Agreements to reach Parliament in the course of 2010.

As regards legislation, several initiatives are being considered.

The Lisbon Treaty has brought enhanced EU competences for foreign investment. In this context, an early priority will be to work on legislation in this area designed to provide certainty for foreign investors – particularly as regards arrangements already put in place by Member States.

In parallel with the conclusion of the FTA with Korea, we will need a Regulation on the implementation of the safeguard mechanism contained in this FTA.

Finally, there is the review and renewal of the Generalised System of Preferences, for which the Commission should make a proposal in the course of the year.

Alongside these important initiatives, we may also present various proposals of a technical nature, for example, linked to the resolution of WTO disputes or to implement changes to our trade regime resulting from earlier EU enlargements.

I will personally see to it that this legislation is prepared in line with the Inter-institutional
Agreement on Better Law-Making.

As regards the priorities set out by the Committee on International Trade, I refer to my replies
to questions 3 and 4, which I will elaborate during my hearing. Concerning Trade Defence
Instruments, President Barroso has asked me in my mission letter to oversee the updating and
modernisation of these instruments during this Commission's term.

President Barroso will present a successor to the Lisbon Strategy early during the new Commission's mandate. In this context, I will ensure that trade policy plays a full part in realising the new 2020 vision, linking internal policy measures to strengthening the EU's external competitiveness.

This will act as a point of departure for the work I will take forward to set out a strategic trade policy for 2010 – 2015."

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