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Informal Trade Foreign Affairs Council

Volume 637: debated on Friday 16 March 2018

The EU Foreign Affairs Informal Council (Trade) took place in Sofia on 27 February 2018. I represented the UK at the meeting. A summary of the discussions follows:

On follow up to the 11th WTO ministerial conference held in December 2017, Ministers discussed the lack of negotiated outcomes at the multilateral level. Nonetheless, there was a broad welcome for the new joint initiative statements at MC11. The objective was for a critical mass of interested WTO members to make progress in the areas addressed by the joint statements. These discussions should be open to everybody to join. Developments around the WTO appellate body were also discussed.

Commissioner Malmström updated the Council on the state of play of the EU’s free trade agreements, stating that Japan and Singapore would be presented to Council imminently, and that negotiations with Indonesia and Chile were ongoing. Negotiations with Malaysia were set to resume in the near future.

Discussion revolved around Mexico and Mercosur, which were both reported to be in the end game but with a number of issues remaining to be resolved. I called on the Commission to show ambition on data flows in the Mexico agreement.

Under AOB, and after I had had to leave, the Commission gave an update on EU-US relations, and assessed that the US’s likely imposition of import tariffs or quotas on steel and aluminium on national security grounds was unjustified. The Commission and member states agreed to continue to engage the US Government and Congress in order to argue against any measures, highlighting the knock on impact of safeguards on global markets. Since the President’s announcement on 1 March that he intends to impose tariffs, discussions with the EU have continued and the UK will stay closely engaged on this live issue.