The following notable developments have occurred in relation to the EU’s on-going or pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations:
On 18 July 2012, the European Commission adopted a draft mandate for opening free trade negotiations with Japan for discussion/approval by the Council after the summer.
According to the Commission, the draft negotiating mandate contains a provision that Japan should eliminate its non-tariff barriers in parallel with the elimination of tariff barriers in the EU. In addition, a safeguard is proposed authorising the suspension of negotiations, if after one year Japan is not showing sufficient commitment to dismantle non-tariff barriers as set out in a roadmap agreed with the EU.
On 19 June 2012, the EU-US High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth, which was set up in November 2011 to study the potential scenarios for a new transatlantic free trade agreement, issued its interim report.
The report concludes that a comprehensive agreement that addresses a broad range of bilateral trade issues (including tariffs, regulatory/convergence issues and NTBs, services, investment and public procurement), as well as issues of common concern with respect to third countries (e.g. access to raw materials/energy) would, if achievable, provide the most significant benefit to both countries.
This interim report has been endorsed at the highest political level by US President Obama, European Commission President Barroso and EU Council President Van Rompuy.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has also launched public consultations on the future of EU-US trade and economic relations. The results of this, and an earlier consultation, will be used for the Impact Assessment that the Commission is currently preparing.
The current ambitious aim from the EU side would be to start negotiations in 2013 and to finalise them in 2014.
- Colombia – Peru
On 26 June 2012, the EU signed the FTA with Colombia and Peru. The agreement will provisionally take effect once the European Parliament has given its consent and the ratification process is concluded in Peru and Colombia.
European and Canadian negotiators stated in the context of an EP event in late June that good progress has recently been made in the areas of market access for goods, services, and procurement, but that no consensus has yet been found in certain areas, including on rules of origin. The goal is still to conclude the FTA negotiations before the end of 2012.
A ministerial meeting between the Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry, Sharma, and EU Trade Commissioner, De Gucht, took place on 26 June 2012, following several other high-level meetings. Discussions focused on outstanding key market access issues in relation to services, tariff reductions and public procurement.
Further bilateral technical and senior-level meetings are scheduled for September and October 2012. After that, it is expected that another ministerial meeting will be held towards the end of 2012 to assess progress. The EU is still aiming for further commitments from India on, inter alia, tariff reductions for cars, wines and spirits, and on the issue of duty drawback.
On 18 July 2012, EU Trade Commissioner, De Gucht, and Singapore’s Trade Minister, Lim, met to discuss progress in the on-going EU-Singapore FTA negotiations. Further chief negotiator meetings were held on the fringes of this ministerial meeting with the aim to settle outstanding issues. Agreement still needs to be reached on a number of issues, including rules of origin.
Further chief negotiator meetings are scheduled to take place in the late Summer. Depending on the outcome of these discussions, a new ministerial meeting may be scheduled for the Autumn.
- Central America
On 29 June 2012, the EU and six Central American States signed a comprehensive association agreement consisting of three pillars, including trade. The trade component of the agreement focuses on tariff elimination, government procurement, services and investment. The agreement as a whole will enter into force as soon as it is ratified by all the parties. The trade provisions of this agreement will however enter into force at the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013 following the consent by the European Parliament expected in the Autumn.
On 26 June 2012, the European Commission officially launched free trade negotiations with Vietnam. These negotiations will cover tariffs, non-tariff barriers, procurement, competition and services. The first round of talks is scheduled to take place after the Summer. The European Commission also launched public consultations on an FTA with Vietnam. Replies to the Commission’s questionnaire can be sent to the Commission until 17 August 2012.
On 19-20 June 2012, the EU and Armenia held a first round of negotiations on a Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Area. The two sides agreed to set up 14 working groups that will focus on the concrete chapters of a future agreement. Such agreement establishing a free trade area will be part of a broader association agreement which is currently being negotiated between the EU and Armenia. The next round of negotiations is scheduled to take place in early October 2012.