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EU Foreign Affairs Council

Volume 554: debated on Monday 26 November 2012

The Minister of State for Trade and Investment—Joint with Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my noble Friend Lord Green, has today made the following statement:

The trade formation of the EU Foreign Affairs Council will meet in Brussels on 29 November 2012 under the chairmanship of the Cypriot Presidency. I will represent the UK for all the items on the agenda.

The meeting will open with updates from Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht and an exchange of views on the Commission’s two trade omnibus proposals which bring common commercial (trade) policy regulation into line with post-Lisbon decision-making arrangements. Omnibus I amends trade regulations by replacing Council decision making with Commission decision making. Omnibus II converts previous Commission decision making in consultation with member states into so-called delegated powers. I expect the Commissioner’s focus at the Council to be on the pace of progress on the proposals, rather than the substance. The UK supports the proposals. It is right that the Council examines closely any transfer of responsibilities to the Commission.

The only other legislative proposal relates to financial responsibility for investor-state disputes arising from EU investment protection treaties with third countries. The proposal sets out how financial liability and responsibility for legal representation should be divided between the EU and its member states when claims are made against them by foreign investors. The UK position on the proposal is broadly supportive. We believe the regulation is necessary and agree with the main principle that it follows: where the claim is made against EU-level legislation, the EU is responsible; when the claim is made against national legislation, the member state is responsible.

There will then follow four substantive “non-legislative” items each relating to bilateral trade negotiations. On each item, Commissioner de Gucht will give an update and Ministers will respond.

The first of these items concerns the potential launch of formal negotiations between the EU and Japan on an economic partnership agreement (a free trade agreement in all but name). The Council will be asked to adopt the negotiating mandate which has been debated in Council working groups and redrafted by the presidency. The adoption of the EU-Japan negotiating mandate is the only item on the agenda that may be subject to a vote. Assuming the proposed text for a negotiating mandate takes on board UK sensitivities I intend to vote in favour of adoption with a view to negotiations getting under way in the coming months.

The second and third non-legislative items relate to the negotiation of the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement (another FTA) and the negotiation of the EU-Singapore FTA. Both of these trade negotiations are in their final stages and are expected to be close to conclusion by the time of the trade FAC meeting. In the case of the EU-Canada negotiations it may be possible to conclude, whereas further political level engagement is likely to be required in the coming months in order to finalise the EU-Singapore FTA.

I am confident that UK priorities are being taken seriously both by EU negotiators and the third-country negotiators on the EU-Canada and EU-Singapore FTAs so I expect to be able to intervene positively in support of rapid conclusion in order to bring the benefits of these FTAs to UK business as quickly as possible. I shall update Parliament after the Council.

The fourth non-legislative item relates to potential EU-Southern Mediterranean trade negotiations which may be ready to launch in the coming months. As well as representing opportunities for UK firms, trade agreements with these countries would prove useful tools, in delivering political stability.

Over lunch there will be a discussion on EU trade relations with Russia following its recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) accession, and a discussion on co-ordination within the EU of our trade and investment relations with China.

In summary, my aims for formal sessions of this Council meeting will be to:

Support the presidency in making progress with the trade omnibus dossiers while stressing the importance of maintaining the balance between interests achieved in the Council working group;

Support progress on the financial liability proposal;

Call for the imminent launch of EU-Japan FTA negotiations as a driver for economic growth;

Support rapid conclusion of the ambitious EU-Canada agreement

Urge rapid conclusion of the EU-Singapore FTA

Support plans to launch negotiations with Southern Mediterranean countries when they are ready, meaning most probably Morocco in the first instance and Tunisia thereafter.