OPP Meeting Summary: EP INTA Committee – Priorities of the Estonian Presidency in the area of International Trade Policy (11 July 2017)

A summary of the Committee’s exchange of views with Urve Palo, Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, representing the President-in-Office of the Council is available.

EP INTA Committee meeting – 11 July 2017
Presentation by Urve Palo, Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, representing the President-in-Office of the Council, on the priorities of the Estonian Presidency in the area of International Trade Policy


Urve Palo, Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology opened the debate and made the following key points:

The upcoming 6 months would include:

  • an aim to step up EU efforts to liberalise global trade and investment. Trade agreements concluded by the EU should support values and strengthen governance on issues like labour conditions, human rights and product safety. Trade policy could also help with the transition to a green economy and combating climate change;
  • the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11) would take place under this Presidency. The multilateral dimension of international trade would therefore be a key priority. The Estonian Presidency would seek to reach a constructive EU position on MC11 to secure a meaningful outcome;
  • on plurilateral negotiations, the Presidency hoped further progress could be made on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) and the Environmental Goods Agreement;
  • on a bilateral level, she welcomed the political agreement on the free trade deal between the EU and Japan. This agreement sent a strong signal in favour of free trade and would set the new global standard for trade agreements;
  • specific bilateral agreements referenced included Mercosur, Mexico, Tunisia, and ASEAN countries. The Presidency aimed to make as much progress as possible in negotiations;
  • their objective was to also achieve adoption of negotiating directives for FTAs with Chile, Australia and New Zealand and to continue to work on the Commission’s proposal on the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union;
  • on EU-Singapore and EU-Vietnam trade agreements, the Presidency would strive for the Council’s authorisation to sign and provisionally reply to agreements. They also hoped to start the provisional application of the EU-Canada trade agreement during the Presidency;
  • the EU’s ambition to have a balanced, and high-standard trade agreement with the US remained unchanged. The Presidency would continue to support strong transatlantic economic ties whilst also seeking greater clarity on the approach to trade policy by the new US Administration;
  • openness to foreign investments was a key principle for the EU and this should remain. The Estonian Presidency would be chairing the discussion on the main parameters of a Multilateral Investment Court which would be major departure from the system of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS);
  • the Presidency would also work to achieve progress on the EU-Myanmar Burma Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) and the EU-China Investment Agreement;
  • finally, the Presidency would also strive to lead the discussions on how to best develop the relationship between trade and investment provisions in further trade agreements;
  • the 3 key legislative files on the table during the Presidency were:
    • the modernisation of trade defence instruments – here the Presidency looked forward to continuing negotiations with the EP. Despite significant convergence under the Maltese Presidency, some issues were still unsolved and would need to be tackled;
    • the new anti-dumping methodology file – the first trilogue would take place on 12 July 2017. She hoped there would be movement on this file as this would be useful in terms of the line of defence in the WTO dispute settlement;
    • dual-use items regulation – the Presidency would continue the discussions in the Council. Their aim was to reach an agreement that would encourage advancement of the process, thus providing legal clarity and ensuring better coherence between the EU’s foreign and security policies, as well as economic and commercial interests.

Political Group Representatives


Artis Pabriks (EPP, LV)

  • given the “unclarity across the atlantic,” the EPP had high hopes for the Estonian Presidency and expected it to push for a more active role for the EU in trade policy;
  • despite some “political contradictions,” Europe should not forget about Taiwan which was also an important trade partner for the EU. In this regards, some of the existing treaties and legislation were in need of an update;
  • finally, his group expected the Presidency to ratify CETA as soon as possible, as well as supporting the ratification of other countries where possible.

Inmaculada Rodríguez-Piñero Fernández (S&D, ES) read a statement on behalf of group coordinator Alessia Maria Mosca (S&D, IT)

  • the new US administration posed a threat to the multilateral system. China was also becoming an increasingly hostile environment for companies and its overcapacity in certain sectors and unfair practices such as dumping, were also a threat;
  • it was not all bad news. The conclusion of the political agreement with Japan was a positive example and partners from Chile, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand were now looking to Europe. They should seize these opportunities;
  • on trade defence instruments (TDI) modernisation and the new calculation methodology, the Maltese Presidency had been very ambitious yet unable to strike a balanced deal. To tackle civil society concerns, transparency was key and she questioned why the Council was reluctant to publish the negotiating mandates;
  • there were mixed feelings about negotiations with Mercosur. She questioned if support for a balanced deal here was unanimous in the Council.

 Emma McClarkin (ECR, UK)

  • she would have liked to hear more concrete information on the ratification and presentation of the Singapore and Vietnam deals being brought forward;
  • the economic health of the EU was a priority. New markets, matched with ambition, speed and delivery were needed for growth. The Presidency needed to provide this;
  • she asked for further clarification on plans for digital trade.

 Marietje Schaake (ALDE, NL)

  • she referenced the CETA agreement and the importance of transatlantic trade despite changes in the US political leadership. The EU-Japan political agreement was another significant occurrence. She encouraged the Presidency to be ambitious and “take people along,” perhaps with new technology;
  • she asked for further elaboration on digital trade rules and their importance, not just from a single market perspective but also on a global level;
  • finally, she underlined the importance of the dual-use regulation and its update. The EP had been pursuing this for over 6 years as technological progress was rapid and the EU’s legislation was lagging behind. She asked if it would be possible to see the closure of this file under the Estonian Presidency.

Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL, DE)

  • on transparency, he hoped the Estonian Presidency could finally make it possible for the Council to publish the trade negotiating mandates;
  • with regards to the multilateral aspects of international trade and MC11, he hoped the Presidency’s participation would be ambitious and take into consideration the interests of third countries in particular those from the south. He questioned if the Presidency was discussing at Council level the Doha Round and the new themes on the table as discussed in Geneva;
  • finally, he asked for more information on the position in the Council with regards to investment protection and the EU-China Investment Agreement.

Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI)

  • EU trade negotiations must be open and accessible to the public. In this respect, she asked the Presidency to give support to Commissioner Malmström and the EP who had been calling for access to the negotiating mandates. She hoped this issue would be solved under this Presidency’s term;
  • she questioned what the Presidency would do to ensure EU FTAs contained strong sustainable development chapters which were enforceable;
  • finally, she asked if the Presidency planned on promoting the initiative Commissioner Malmström had taken concerning the Multilateral Investment Court.

Urve Palo, Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology responded as follows:

  • the stance of the new US administration on a possible trade agreement with the EU had been somewhat disappointing. Nonetheless, a comprehensive trade deal was still in their focus. They would bring the discussion back to the negotiating table when the time was right;
  • on CETA, the EU was ready and waiting and was hoping for a signal from Canada that all the necessary procedures had been undertaken on their side;
  • the next priority would be to continue negotiations on an EU-China trade deal. They were aiming for an ambitious deal that would represent the interests of the EU’s entrepreneurs. Negotiations had been lengthy and slow but there had been progress on a number of issues;
  • a rules-based WTO would remain the cornerstone of world trade. The Presidency were ready to work hard at MC11 to come to an agreement between the member states and they wanted to support the Commission in reaching a stable and balanced agreement with other countries. The end result would depend on the ambitions of all parties but the EU must remain active and continue to take a leading role;
  • on trade defence measures, the Presidency wanted to reach a speedy agreement with the EP. The trio-Presidency had called for this in 2017 and the Council had also called for an agreement on trade defence measures that reflected the rules of the WTO. However, the Council was yet to publish its position on trade defence measures and there was no common agreement as yet. The Presidency were ready to look for compromises in order to reach an agreement with the EP as soon as possible;
  • with regard to data flows, these played an important role in trade between member states and when dealing with third countries. A rules book was needed that guaranteed a balance between privacy concerns for individuals but also ensured competitiveness for businesses. Both in the Commission and Council, discussions had taken place on this subject. The Presidency were committed to bringing these negotiations forward.

Other interventions and questions


David Martin (S&D, UK)

  • he reiterated support for publication by the Council of the negotiating mandates;
  • next, he questioned if in light of the court ruling, the Council would consider separating the investment and goods and services elements of the Singapore agreement as this would make ratification by the EP much easier;
  • the suspension of the EU’s FTA with the Philippines was a good thing given the current human rights situation. He understood the Commission had received a report on GSP+ and was currently considering this. If this report turned out to be negative, he questioned if the Council would support suspending GSP+ for the Philippines.

Jude Kirton-Darling (S&D, UK)

  • she expressed regret that the UK had decided not to lead the world’s largest trading bloc and “set off on its own lonely voyage”;
  • at the G20 they had noticed a difference in tone from Donald Trump and “heard sounds” from Angela Merkel about the relaunching of TTIP and the warming up of transatlantic negotiations. Talks were blocked on specific points but she asked if there were any discussions in the Council about looking at the EU mandate and renegotiating it in relation to the blocks in the talks;
  • finally she asked the Presidency representative’s views on the prospect of TTIP being re-launched.

Klaus Buchner (Greens/EFA, DE)

  • he raised the issue of transparency and asked if the Presidency would be prepared to try to instigate change in the Council so that the EP would be able to receive information on issues still to be discussed.

Costas Mavrides (S&D, CY)

  • he focused on the EU-Turkey Customs Union and quoted a statement from the Presidency’s programme which referred to mandates for negotiations depending on progress.  He questioned what “progress” meant and referenced in this regard human rights and Turkey’s obligation to recognise Cyprus.

Inmaculada Rodríguez-Piñero Fernández (S&D, ES)

  • she asked when they would know about the EU’s priorities at MC11 on support for multilateralism;
  • on trade defence, the EP had a resolution on this and they wanted to know the Council’s position on demonstrating better flexibility;
  • sustainable development chapters in trade agreements should be binding.

William (The Earl of) Dartmouth (EFDD, UK)

  • he asked what was more important, implementing and negotiating successful trade agreements or implementing the “green agenda.” If the former, they should ignore the agenda of the Greens who had limited support among the 28 member states, he added.

Urve Palo, Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology responded as follows:

  • the Presidency welcomed the Court decision on Singapore which provided clarity and legal certainty. At the same time, there was a need for a more thorough discussion on the effects of this ruling not only on the Singapore trade agreement, but EU trade policy as a whole. They were waiting for the Commission and member state opinions on this before assessing how to proceed;
  • on the negotiating mandates, the Council was currently looking at all requests by the EP. It was still too early to talk about future negotiations on agreements before approval of mandates by the Council;
  • it was too early to discuss expectations for MC11. The EU and partners had put forward a number of suggestions for agreement and work was underway in Geneva. There would be a Ministerial meeting in Marrakech which she hoped would provide more clarity;
  • the Council was currently discussing the Commission’s proposal to open negotiations with Turkey on renewing the Customs Union. The Presidency were ready to work towards bringing these negotiations forward but content was more important than speed. They were very much aware of the political issues but these aside, both sides had a lot to gain;
  • on the trade deal with Japan, they needed to explain the background of the agreement and address potential problem areas with civil society and interest groups;
  • the Presidency wanted to launch a discussion on sustainable development aspects in trade negotiations. Human rights issues would be addressed in this regard and GSP+ was a good incentive for third countries in the area of human rights. By the end of November, the Presidency wanted to voice their opinion on a possible GSP+ renewal.

Source: One Policy Place

The simultaneous interpretation of debates provided by the European Parliament serves only to facilitate communication amongst the participants in the meeting. It does not constitute an authentic record of proceedings. One Policy Place uses these translations so this text is only a guide and should not be relied on as an official account of the meeting. Only the original speech or the revised written translation of that speech is authentic.

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