On 1 October 2019, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, took part in an informal meeting of Trade Ministers of the European Union (EU) Member States in Brussels, Belgium, which addressed current issues of international trade.
Discussions focused on challenges to the multilateral trading system. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is still operating under crisis conditions. The WTO dispute settlement mechanism will actually stop functioning by the end of the year due to an insufficient number of judges, and seeing that the United States of America is blocking the appointment of new judges. The participants of the meeting were unanimous that ways and means should be sought to preserve the capacity for action of the WTO dispute settlement system, and that includes the EU seeking bilateral solutions with other WTO members.
The EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, informed the participants about the state of affairs in EU-U.S. trade relations, including the intention of the U.S. to raise import taxes on the goods and products of EU origin. Such rights have been conferred on the U.S. by a WTO decision in a dispute on subsidies paid by EU Member States to Airbus, and this week a WTO decision will be published stating the exact amount the U.S. has the right to seek in compensation through imposition of tariffs.
In the Commission’s opinion, the tension in the EU-U.S. trade relations and the expected additional tariffs on EU goods will have a negative effect on the economies of both sides and on the global economy as well. Unsettled disputes in trade curb the growth of the global economy; therefore, it is in the interests of all parties to preserve rules-based trade relations in the framework of a multilateral trading system.
The current tariffs on steel and imminent measures in the automotive sector have been the cause of constant tension in the EU-U.S. relationship for more than a year; in addition, differing understandings on the scope of negotiations prevent the talks on the EU-U.S. trade agreement from being resumed. Presenting a broader perspective of the EU and the U.S., the Parliamentary Secretary said that it was unity that had shielded the EU from larger problems so far. We must preserve that unity and demonstrate that the EU is standing up for its interests, she added.
Following long and complicated negotiations for almost two decades, a political accord was achieved on a trade agreement with the Mercosur countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) this summer. During the discussions, its potential benefits for EU economy were highlighted and hope was expressed that the agreement will finally be signed, while also drawing attention to climate issues and the protection of Amazonian forests in particular.
The Commissioner told the participants that a decision on signing the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement will be adopted at the Council in the nearest weeks, and it could take effect as early as this coming November thereby opening new opportunities for EU exporters to Southeast Asia.
The participants expressed appreciation for the work of the European Commission on the third annual report on implementation of EU free trade agreements. The Latvian Foreign Ministry’s Parliamentary Secretary commended the Commission’s work and shared Latvia’s experience of arranging information seminars. This year, Latvian export companies had the opportunity to learn more about trade agreements and business prospects in countries such as Vietnam, Singapore, and Japan. Seminars on other regions will be organised in the near future.
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