The Foreign Affairs Council was held on 10 September in Brussels. I represented the UK.
The agenda items covered were as follows:
Economic Partnership Agreements
This was an opportunity for the Commission to discuss the disappointing progress made on economic partnership agreements (EPAs), with a number of options explored to help increase momentum. I reinforced the UK position that EPAs should be development-friendly and we should avoid any negative implications of the agreements wherever possible. The UK will work closely with the Commission in developing thinking and approach going forward.
South Korea Free Trade Agreement
The presidency sought Ministers’ approval and signature of this free trade agreement.
Italy called for provisional application of the FTA to be delayed by at least 12 months, arguing that the current agreement was not balanced, particularly in the automotive and textiles sectors, and a proper understanding should be reached with the European Parliament on the safeguard regulation before the FTA is implemented.
I emphasised that the EU needed to defend its credibility and avoid any damaging read-across to other multilateral and bilateral negotiations. I also highlighted the benefits of the FTA to many Italian business sectors.
No agreement was reached on 10 September. On 15 September, Korea stated it would accept Italy’s request to delay provisional application of the FTA until 1 July 2011. The signature of the agreement is scheduled to take place on 6 October 2010.
The Commission outlined the approach in its communication on the future of the European Union’s international investment policy, stressing the need to prioritise countries for new EU-investment agreements. Despite widespread criticism of the regulation, particularly on the need for certainty for businesses, several member states supported the overall approach to investment policy as set out in the communication.
Following the catastrophic flooding which continues to cause considerable devastation in Pakistan, we had the opportunity to discuss plans for a comprehensive package of measures to assist Pakistan’s recovery, including substantive measures on trade. The UK has been at the forefront of negotiations pushing to improve Pakistan’s market access to the EU with immediate effect. I personally spoke to my EU counterparts and the Commission in the margins of the meeting, and will continue to push strongly for the EU to play a leading role in Pakistan’s recovery.