The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Brussels on 9 November 2018. I represented the UK at the meeting. A summary of the discussions follows.
Member states unanimously supported the Commission’s approach to modernising the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The discussion focused on the blocking of new appointments to the WTO appellate body and what this meant for its ability to function as the most urgent and serious issue. The functioning of the WTO more generally was also discussed. I highlighted the significance of these issues, and the need for political engagement to support the international rules-based system. I also highlighted the importance of engaging developing countries in the process of reforming the WTO.
The presidency provided updates on foreign direct investment screening and the bilateral safeguard regulation. The Commissioner is seeking political agreement on both files by the end of November. The Commissioner also called on Council to agree a mandate for the recast of the existing EU dual-use regulation by the end of 2018.
Ongoing trade negotiations
The Commissioner updated the Council on the state of play of ongoing EU trade negotiations. On EU-Vietnam, the Commission had adopted and published the English language text for Council decisions on the signature and conclusion of the free trade agreement (FTA) and the investment protection agreement (IPA). The Commissioner also informed Ministers that the European Parliament was due to vote on the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement (EPA) in December and on the EU-Singapore FTA and IPA in early 2019.
The Commission hoped to conclude negotiations with Mercosur and to present the Mexico agreement at the earliest opportunity ahead of the European Parliament elections in spring 2019.
Negotiations were also progressing with Chile, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and Tunisia, and on a multilateral investment court (MIC).
Implementation of EU FTAs
The Commissioner presented the EU’s second annual implementation report. She highlighted how FTAs remove trade barriers and open markets, while allowing protection of sensitive products. She also noted that insufficient preference utilisation rates can leave some of the potential from FTAs untapped.
Member states welcomed the report. I highlighted the UK’s ratification of CETA on 8 November and suggested that more could be done to demonstrate the development impact of economic partnership agreements.