The EU Foreign Affairs Informal Council (Trade) took place in Brussels on 22 May 2018. I represented the UK at the meeting. A summary of the discussions follows:
Commissioner Malmström provided an update on her latest contact with Wilbur Ross on US tariffs on steel imports. A further temporary exemption was not expected. I supported the outcome of the leaders’ discussion the previous week and emphasised active UK engagement with the US in support of the EU position.
Ministers adopted the conclusions on the negotiation and conclusion of EU trade agreements. These follow the CJEU decision on competence boundaries in May 2017. They note the Commission’s proposal to pursue EU-only trade agreements, with the option of separate mixed investment protection agreements, and assert the role of the Council in deciding on a case-by-case basis whether to open negotiations in this manner (or to split existing agreements which are yet to be signed). The conclusions make clear that investment protection agreements and association agreements containing provisions of shared competence will remain mixed agreements and will continue to require ratification at the national level. Among other things, the Council conclusions also state that member state Parliaments, civil society and other interested stakeholders should be kept duly informed from the beginning of the trade agreement negotiation process, and that member states should continue to involve their Parliaments in line with their respective national procedures.
Ministers thanked the Commission for its work on the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement along with the EU-Singapore free trade agreement and the EU-Singapore investment protection agreement (IPA). Commissioner Malmström confirmed the IPA would not be provisionally applied, coming into force only when all member states had ratified.
Ministers adopted mandates for negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, which would be launched during Commissioner Malmström’s visit to the region in June.
Commissioner Malmström debriefed Ministers on her recent engagement in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Ministers agreed that the EU should continue engaging with the US and discussed the extent to which significant WTO reforms should be considered. I cautioned against portraying the WTO as being in “crisis” and urged maximising the opportunities including the “joint statement initiative” on e-commerce and encouraged further consideration of WTO reform.