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EU Foreign Affairs Council

Volume 554: debated on Thursday 6 December 2012

My noble Friend, the Minister of State for Trade and Investment (joint with Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Lord Green, has today made the following statement:

The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Brussels on 29 November 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 Commission’s two trade omnibus proposals which bring common commercial (trade) policy regulation into line with post-Lisbon decision-making arrangements, and the proposal relating to financial responsibility for investor-state disputes arising from EU investment protection treaties with third countries

Member states noted that omnibus I has an agreed Council position and will now go to trilogue negotiations, while omnibus II is still being discussed in working group. The Commission urged member states to seek agreement on both by the end of the Irish presidency.

Member states broadly agreed with the general principle of the Commission’s proposal on investor-state disputes. I intervened to say that the Commission should only assume a role in any legal defence where strictly necessary. I also called for greater transparency in deciding who should bear any financial responsibility. The issue will continue to be discussed in working group.

There followed four substantive “non-legislative” items each relating to bilateral trade negotiations:

The launch of formal negotiations between the EU and Japan on an economic partnership agreement (a free trade agreement in all but name).

Negotiation of the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement (another FTA).

State of play on the EU/Singapore FTA.

Potential EU-southern Mediterranean trade negotiations.

The EU-Japan negotiating mandate was agreed after some discussion and negotiations should begin in the new year.

On the EU-Canada free trade agreement, there was a discussion on the state of play in the negotiations. Outstanding issues include agriculture, investment and intellectual property. Negotiations are continuing and the Commission noted that there is commitment on both sides to conclude an agreement as soon as possible.

There was also a discussion on the state of play in the negotiations on the EU-Singapore free trade agreement. Progress has been made on outstanding issues and there was broad support from member states for an agreement to be concluded rapidly.

Member states welcomed progress towards opening negotiations with southern Mediterranean countries and, in particular, the decision of the Trade Policy Committee to launch negotiations with Morocco. The Commission noted that scoping discussions were underway with Tunisia, with the aim of launching negotiations in 2013.

Under AOB, the Commission was asked by some member states to reconsider the decision not to extend prior surveillance for steel imports when the current system expires at the end of 2012. The Commission was reluctant, arguing that the evidence did not support an extension. I intervened to support the Commission.

The EU’s trade relationships with Russia and China were discussed over lunch.