EU Trade, Development Ministers Hold First Joint Gathering, Eyeing Increased Cooperation

4 February 2016

Better aligning trade and aid policies, such as through more responsible supply chains, was high on the agenda as European trade and development ministers convened for an informal meeting on Tuesday, with the 2 February luncheon in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam marking their first-ever joint gathering.

The luncheon was hosted by Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, and came on the same day as both development and trade ministers also held separate meetings to address other policy topics, ranging from the migration crisis to the pace of the negotiations for a bilateral trade and investment pact with the US.

The Netherlands holds the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union through 30 June 2016.

Ploumen explained to reporters that one of the key topics raised during the high-level meet between trade and development ministers was how to make global value chains (GVCs) more sustainable, and what role the 28-nation bloc – with its 500 million consumers and 25 million businesses – could play in the process.

“[The EU has] a lot of bargaining power, so to say, but also a lot of responsibility,” she said, remarking on the enthusiasm among the participants “for this perspective,” which will be the subject of future discussions.

Tuesday’s meeting, which officials emphasised was an introductory discussion, included an exchange on best practices, including the Kimberley process as well as the conflict minerals dossier currently undergoing EU legislative procedures, along with garment-related trade initiatives undertaken in the wake of the tragic factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013.

“The important point to make here is that the EU can work with producing countries using not only aid instruments, but also trade instruments” as a way to provide incentives for responsible business practices, said Ploumen, adding that this will be a key theme of the Dutch EU presidency.

Along with EU ministers, the meeting also included among its participants Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s Trade Commissioner, as well as Neven Mimica, the EU’s International Cooperation and Development Commissioner.

“We had very useful discussions… and this falls very much into the Trade for All agenda which the Commission presented earlier this fall, where want to put further emphasis on the different foreign policy tools which we have to use trade as an instrument to promote sustainable development but also development cooperation,” said Malmström.

The EU trade chief was referring to its new proposal on the bloc’s trade and investment strategy for the next five years, released in October 2015. (See Bridges Weekly, 15 October 2015)

“We are promoting responsible supply chains and enabling an environment for their development through a whole variety of policies in our trade and investment agenda. All our trade agreements do contain a sustainable development chapter,” she added, noting that the EU’s newly-agreed trade deal with Vietnam provides a useful example.

The EU’s recent report on the implementation of GSP+ was also cited as an example by the trade commissioner, referring to the enhanced Generalised System of Preferences, which eliminates tariffs for the same goods that would see tariff reductions as the regular GSP, but with the added condition that those countries involved ratify and implement international conventions on labour, human, and environmental rights.

The report found that while there had been progress seen in the 14 countries involved, much more needed to be done.

Trade ministers’ meeting: WTO, TTIP 12th round

After the joint luncheon meeting, EU trade ministers then met informally to address issues such as the future of the WTO, bilateral trade and investment talks with the US, and a plurilateral effort with several other countries to clinch a deal liberalising environmental goods trade.

Regarding the WTO in the wake of last December’s ministerial conference in Nairobi, the EU trade chief called for the international and European policy communities to reflect on how to address implementation of what was agreed in Nairobi and in 2013 in Bali, as well as how to deal with existing, unresolved issues and ways to address newer trade topics.

“This is not the moment to decide upon [new topics], but to see how we can bring important global issues, for instance e-commerce and digital trade, investment, regulatory issues, local content, and other issues to the global agenda,” she said.

While noting that the EU’s preference is for multilateral pacts, she referred to advances in the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) and Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) negotiations, as well as the recently-completed negotiations for an expanded Information Technology Agreement (ITA), as examples of other ways to move ahead.

These pacts “show that if that is not possible immediately, we can start with a coalition of the willing and then bring it into the WTO,” she said, indicating the hope also to complete the EGA and TISA talks this year.

The EU trade commissioner also confirmed that the next round of negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US will be held the week of 22 February in Brussels, Belgium. The meet will mark the twelfth round since talks began in mid-2013.

“We are stepping up the game quite considerably and we are determined from both sides to see if we can work really hard to finish [TTIP] by the end of the year. Of course, a lot of work remains, but we have achieved quite a lot,” she told reporters, reaffirming earlier indications that the EU is aiming for a pact before US President Barack Obama leaves office next January. (See Bridges Weekly, 21 January 2016)

The two sides need to be “approaching the endgame by the summer,” she added, noting that they are not there yet.

Following the February round, which will focus on services, public procurement, and a first discussion on the EU’s proposal for an investment court under TTIP, there will then be additional rounds in April and July, with the goal of having consolidated texts on almost all items by this spring.

Development ministers discuss migration, Post-Cotonou, Global Strategy

The migration crisis in Europe – and what role development cooperation can play in tackling the situation – was one of the key topics during an earlier meeting that day among EU development ministers, officials said.

How to proceed with ACP ties was another issue raised during the joint luncheon, officials confirmed. The Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the ACP countries was inked in 2000, outlining a trade, political, and cooperation framework for the 28-nation bloc’s ties with 79 countries.

The agreement, which entered into force in 2003, is due to expire in 2020, though the pillar on trade and economic cooperation was only from 2000-2007. The EU is still working on concluding EPA negotiations with ACP members, which have been conducted with different regional groupings.

“The EU has a commitment with African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries that consists of aid, trade, and political cooperation. That [Cotonou] agreement needs to be looked at again,” Ploumen told journalists on Tuesday. Mimica, in his own remarks, indicated that they are aiming to have concrete proposals by year’s end on the subject.

Another key item on the docket was the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, which the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, is working on developing ahead in consultation with member states, EU institutions, and other key stakeholders.

Mogherini is slated to present the document to EU leaders this coming June. Trade, humanitarian assistance, and development cooperation are among the policy areas under discussion, with the Global Strategy website classifying these together under the heading “Humanitarian Aid and Economic Prosperity.”

This strategy will need to take into account the “universal and comprehensive” 2030 Agenda adopted in New York last September during the UN Sustainable Development Summit, Mimica said. (See Bridges Weekly, 1 October 2015)

ICTSD reporting.

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