The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Brussels on 16 March 2012. I represented the UK on all the issues discussed at the meeting. A summary of those discussions follows.
Two legislative items were discussed: the regulation on transitional arrangements for bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and the regulation on the application of generalised system of preferences (GSR).
On the investment regulation, member states endorsed the residency compromise proposal as the basis of a deal. I intervened to support the presidency’s approach, but emphasised the need to maintain investor certainty in the interim period by ensuring that BITs remain in force until replaced by EU agreements and that the final regulation should be competence neutral.
The discussion on the GSP regulation was more difficult, but several member states supported the presidency compromise proposal. Some, however, indicated they still had some concerns. In the run-up to the Council, the UK had secured a number of changes to the proposal. As a result of these changes we were able to join the consensus, and I intervened to support the presidency proposal. The presidency concluded there was a large majority in favour of its compromise, and it would therefore proceed on that basis, with the addition of a wider review of impacts at the UK’s request.
There were three substantive “non-legislative” items: the EU-Singapore FTA, the EU agreement with Colombia and Peru, and the Council conclusions on trade and development.
On the EU-Singapore FTA, there was a debate on the state of play in the negotiations, focusing on the outstanding issues, including non-tariff barriers, rules of origin, and services, especially retail banking.
The Council reached a political agreement on the signature and provisional application of the EU-Andean (Columbia and Peru) FTA and adopted the conclusions on trade and development without member state comment.
Under AOB, the Council discussed the work of the EU-US high-level working group (HLWG) established by the last EU-US summit. The Commission reported good progress to date. I intervened to underline the strategic and political importance of the HLWG and the significance of this opportunity for strengthening trade and economic relations between the EU and the US.
There was also an AOB point on the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA). The Commission informed the Council that in the wake of violent protests and rising opposition from the European Parliament, it had referred the agreement to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The last AOB point was on the Russian ban on EU agricultural products. The Commission said it was tackling the issue. I intervened to express the UK’s concern and support for the Commission’s actions.
Over lunch, there were discussions on the Japan and India FTAs. There was a significant resistance among several member states to entering negotiations for an FTA without decisive actions by Japan to demonstrate a willingness to give up their market. I intervened to argue strongly for the launch of an FTA negotiation as soon as possible. By contrast, there was a general desire to conclude the India FTA. I led the calls for progress, while acknowledging the difficulties.