Speech by Linas Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign affairs, at the European Parliament, International Trade Committee

10 July 2013, Last updated at, 11:40 EEST
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Linas Linkevičius | author: European Parliament

Thank you, Professor Moreira, Honourable Members,

I am very honoured to be here at the Parliament’s International Trade Committee.

Today’s meeting is an invaluable opportunity for me to start what I hope will be a close dialogue with you, first by presenting the priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency, and second by engaging with you on the important issues that dominate the trade policy agenda over the next six months.

Building upon the significant work of the Irish Presidency, and cooperating closely with the European Parliament, we plan to continue implementing the objectives outlined in the Irish, Lithuanian and Greek Trio programme of the Council.

I am particularly honoured that Lithuania holds the first Presidency to represent the enlarged EU of 28 Member States, and I would like to extend my congratulations, and warm welcome, to the new Croatian Members of the European Parliament.

At a time when the European economy faces difficult challenges, it is essential to focus our efforts on measures that boost economic growth and create new jobs. A broad and ambitious trade agenda is key to both.

Time is not on our side. Next May’s elections to the European Parliament, and the end of the current Commission’s term in office, increase the tempo, and the pressure on us.

The Lithuanian Presidency is committed to being an honest broker in steering the decision-making process, ensuring continuity, and involving all relevant partners. Our Presidency slogan is Focus Europe. We will focus on the three goals of a Credible, a Growing and an Open Europe.

By Credible Europe, we mean the need to ensure financial stability and sound public finances.

Growing Europe refers to the imperative for a stronger Single Market policy and effective implementation of the Compact for Growth and Jobs.

An Open Europe is the goal that, among other issues, leads to closer economic and political integration of the EU and its Eastern Partners, as well as to the promotion of free trade.

Under our Presidency, we shall seek to ensure the continuity of the EU’s external trade agenda, aiming in particular:

First, at opening new markets for EU exports , and more opportunities for two-way investment, particularly through ambitious, balanced and comprehensive free trade agreements; without losing sight however of the wider multilateral trade agenda

Second, at creating the conditions for free, fair and open trade for EU businesses through the appropriate legislative framework.

I would like to underline that Europe today faces two historical opportunities:

First, we have just yesterday started negotiations on an ambitious Trade and Investment agreement with the US.

This Parliament has always supported the development of EU-US trade relations. We have paid close attention to Parliament's views, as put forward in your resolution of 23 May. We share the emphasis which you place on the need to further strengthen and deepen the EU-US trade relationship. The TTIP should release the immense, untapped potential of transatlantic relations. It should also bring about positive spill-over effects beyond the transatlantic marketplace, as a model for standard-setting, and regulatory convergence.

I would like to praise the Irish Presidency for its efforts which led to the adoption of a negotiating mandate three weeks ago in the Foreign Affairs Council. The first round of negotiations is taking place in Washington as we speak. Two more rounds are scheduled this year (in October and December), and I anticipate being able to report progress to you during our Presidency.

We need to take this historical chance to strive for maximum ambition in three areas: market access, regulatory issues, and rules addressing global trade challenges and opportunities.

The EU is undertaking these negotiations enthusiastically, but realistically. The core challenge will be to bring our regulatory regimes closer together and to address the harmful effects of behind-the-border trade barriers.

The second historical opportunity is to bring the Eastern Partnership countries closer than ever to the EU as well as to each other. We expect the Eastern Partnership Summit in November to mark progress in political association and economic integration with Eastern neighbourhood countries: firstly, by hopefully signing an Association Agreement, including its DCFTA part, with Ukraine; and second, by announcing the conclusion of negotiations with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia.

Trade negotiations with Moldova were concluded in mid-June, while those with Georgia and Armenia are progressing well, presenting a realistic chance of concluding them soon.

Ukraine is, of course, a particular challenge. But we must not forget that implementation of an AA/DCFTA would mean not only real transformation on the ground; it would also provide the best possible guarantee that internal policy development, and the direction of Ukraine’s foreign policy, would become irreversibly closer to EU standards. I am convinced that we should redouble our efforts, and take this opportunity to get the agreement with Ukraine signed in Vilnius. I am counting on the support of the Parliament for this, and hope to get your consent as soon as possible after the agreement is signed, in order to secure the early start of provisional application. This will bring immediate and substantial economic gains to both parties – the EU and Ukraine.

On European Neighbourhood policy in general, the Lithuanian Presidency will pay due attention to both dimensions – East and South. So we will strive to ensure a consistent approach by further strengthening economic relations with Euromed countries.

In parallel to on-going negotiations with Morocco, there is still a possibility to launch DCFTA negotiations with other Euromed partners during our Presidency (Jordan or Tunisia, for example), but that will realistically depend on their level of preparedness.

As regards other EU strategic partnerships, we expect good progress in Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Japan. Trade potential with this country is far from being fully exploited, but real economic benefits for the EU will come only if Japan is ready to deliver in key areas of EU interest, especially in reducing non-tariff barriers. The Council has set clear conditions for the EU negotiator: the mandate sets out a strict parallelism between the elimination of EU duties and that of non-tariff barriers in Japan. It also foresees a one year review, in which we shall start engaging towards the end of our term. It is obvious to us that both the Council and the Parliament want ambitious and balanced results in these negotiations.

Trade relations with China will be high on our agenda. In the Council, we should rapidly take a decision on the mandate, authorizing the Commission to negotiate an Investment Agreement, covering both investment protection and market access. This is going to be the first stand-alone investment agreement, and we expect an interesting debate. I hope these investment negotiations might start under our Presidency.

Russia is a very important strategic partner for the EU; and a market where an improvement in trade conditions for EU businesses is essential. Almost a year after its accession to the WTO, Russia is failing to remedy shortcomings in its implementation of WTO commitments. The Commission has already put considerable effort into trying to convince Russia to remedy its non-WTO-compliant measures.

However, the results are disappointing. The EU is today launching WTO dispute settlement proceedings on our most immediate concern - discriminatory recycling fees on vehicles. Other Russian non- WTO-compliant trade measures are also under careful scrutiny. Given the significance of trade flows with Russia, the EU is particularly interested in seeing Russia become a reliable WTO partner. So we shall continue to support all the Commission’s efforts in seeking to achieve this goal.

Free trade negotiations with Canada are quite close to reaching a conclusion, or at least a political breakthrough. But we have been in this situation for some months now, it is our sincere hope that these can be unblocked soon.

The Lithuanian Presidency will also devote special attention to the FTA negotiations with the fast-growing ASEAN countries. We look forward to having the FTA with Singapore initialled during our Presidency. Bearing in mind the long-term economic interests of the EU, we will also work for progress in the FTA negotiations with Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Mr Chairman, Honourable Members,
Bilateral negotiations, especially the ambitious network of FTAs that the EU has undertaken to conclude over the coming months and years, are not meant to be an alternative to multilateral trade liberalization.

The EU remains committed to a strong multilateral, rules-based system with WTO at its core. In spite of the difficulties we have been facing over the last few years to advance on DDA negotiations, the WTO still is, and will always remain, the cornerstone of global trade. In the run up to the December WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali ("MC9"), it is essential to achieve further progress, wherever feasible, in the DDA negotiations. We all agree that trade facilitation needs to be at the heart of any package, together with development questions and some calibrated agricultural issues. A successful outcome in Bali is essential if the WTO is to remain credible. As Presidency, we are ready to assume our share of responsibility in securing a successful outcome in Bali. Failure is not an option. We hope that all WTO members will likewise recognize their responsibilities.

I now turn to legislative dossiers. Creating the best possible legal environment for economic operators in the EU is a vital part of our work as co-legislators.

Let me begin by extending my appreciation to your Committee, and personally to you, Mr Chairman, for working with the Irish Presidency to reach political agreement on the Omnibus files. This is a hugely valuable outcome that will enable us to make progress on a number of other dossiers.

The Lithuanian Presidency wants to continue in the same spirit, working with you and the Member States to move forward the trade-related legislative initiatives currently on the table.

In two such dossiers, namely the Enforcement instrument and the Initiative on financial responsibility linked investor-state dispute settlement - we hope to be ready shortly to enter into trilogues with the European Parliament.

As regards the International Procurement Instrument, while there is agreement in the Council on the objective, there is no consensus yet among the Member States on how to get there. We shall obviously explore possible ways forward.

The Council is still at a very early stage in its discussions on modernisation of Trade Defence Instruments.
We will continue working with a view to achieve progress on this.

Mr Chairman, Honourable Members,

This is the European Year of the Citizen, and our particular aim is to seek to shape external trade policy in a way that brings growth, jobs and prosperity to our citizens. I hope you will join me in that endeavour.

I look forward to our cooperation over the next six months. I am here today to seek your views, your ideas and your perspectives. A close and frank dialogue between us is particularly important given the complex nature of the issues we must resolve together.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for your support.

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