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EU-Singapore free trade deal gets green light in Trade Committee

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Trade Committee MEPs agreed on Thursday to the EU-Singapore free trade agreement, a stepping stone to cooperation between the EU and Southeast Asia.

The agreement will remove virtually all tariffs between the two parties at the latest in five years. It will liberalise trade in services, protect unique European products, and opens up the Singaporean procurement market. The agreement includes strengthened labour rights and environmental protection.

Trade Committee MEPs emphasised that since this is the first bilateral trade agreement between the EU and a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the deal can serve as a stepping stone to future free trade deals between the two regions, at a time when the EU can no longer rely on the US as a trading partner.

The main elements of the trade deal are the following:

removal of many non-tariff barriers: Singapore will recognise the EU safety tests for cars and certain electronics, including household devices or adapters. It will also accept EU labels and markings for clothing and textiles;

Geographical indications (GIs): Singapore will protect around 190 EU GIs to the benefit of EU food and drink producers, including those of Jerez wine, Comté cheese, Nürnberger Bratwurst and aceto balsamico di Modena;

public procurement: more access to supply goods and services to the Singapore government;

services: liberalisation of financial, postal, telecommunications, transport and information technology services. Mutual recognition of the qualifications of architects, lawyers and engineers;

sustainable development: Singapore will implement core labour rights conventions, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the sustainable management of forests and fisheries.

The trade committee gave its consent to the agreement by 25 votes to 11, with one abstention. The accompanying resolution, laying out the recommendations of the committee, was adopted by 25 votes to 10, with two abstentions.

Settling disputes between companies and state

The committee also agreed to the Investment Protection Agreement which, once ratified by all EU member states, will replace the existing bilateral agreements between Singapore and 13 EU member states with a more modern approach to dispute settlement. Trade Committee MEPs gave their consent by 26 votes to 11. The resolution was adopted by 25 votes to 12.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Affairs Committee voted to give its consent to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Singapore, which extends cooperation beyond the field of trade.

Quote

“Today’s vote shows support for a progressive EU trade and investment policy. The trade agreement will not only enhance the EU’s access to the Singapore market, but even more to the growing ASEAN region, while ensuring workers and the environment are well protected. The investment protection agreement incorporates the EU’s reformed approach, and will replace the existing deals between Singapore and 13 Member States that include the toxic investor-state dispute settlement,” said David Martin (S&D, UK), the rapporteur on the agreements on the free trade and the investment protection deals.

Next steps

Parliament is set to vote on the trade deal and the investment protection agreement on 12 February in Strasbourg. Once Council concludes the trade agreement, it can enter into force. For the investment protection agreement to enter into force, the member states first need to ratify it.

Background
Singapore is by far the EU’s largest partner in the region, accounting for almost a third of EU-ASEAN trade in goods and services, and roughly two-thirds of investment between the two regions. Over 10,000 European companies have their regional offices in Singapore.

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EU Politics

EU delivers on stronger European Border and Coast Guard to support Member States

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Today, the Council has officially adopted the Commission’s proposal to reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency will have a standing corps of 10,000 border guards, a stronger mandate on returns and will also be able to cooperate more closely with non-EU countries, including those beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. This will give the Agency the right level of ambition to respond to the challenges facing Europe in managing migration and its external borders.

Welcoming today’s final adoption, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner for Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said:

“Today the European Union has achieved an ambitious task of transforming the EU border agency, Frontex, into a fully-fledged European Border and Coast Guard. This Agency will be equipped to offer tangible support to Member States to manage the EU’s external border – wherever and whenever needed.

From less than 300 border guards on the ground in 2014, the European Border and Coast Guard is now deploying around 1,300 officers and will soon have a 10,000-strong standing corps available for deployment. This is a collective achievement, which would not have been possible without strong political support for a common approach.

The European Border and Coast Guard is now stronger than ever. While Member States will remain responsible for the management of external borders, the standing corps will provide unprecedented operational support on the ground. Its officers will be able to assist national border guards in conducting identity and document checks, with border surveillance and return operations.

The Agency will also provide support beyond the EU’s borders. With European Border and Coast Guard officers already deployed in Albania and soon in other Western Balkan countries also, the Agency will be able to cooperate with third countries beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood.

We have spared no effort to make sure that Member States have the necessary tools to protect their borders and ensure the security of European citizens.

But our work is not yet done. The Commission will now provide its full support to help the Agency quickly take up its new tasks and ensure the standing corps swiftly reaches its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.”

Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council will now jointly sign the final text. The text will then be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and the European Border and Coast Guard’s reinforced mandate will enter into force 20 days later. The new European Border and Coast Guard standing corps will be ready for deployment from 2021, and will then gradually reach its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.

Background

The European Border and Coast Guard consists of Member States’ authorities responsible for border management and return, and of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. It was established in 2016, building on the existing structures of Frontex, to meet the new challenges and political realities faced by the EU, both as regards migration and internal security. The reliance on voluntary contributions of staff and equipment by Member States has however resulted in persistent gaps affecting the efficiency of the support the European Border and Coast Guard Agency could offer.

In his 2018 State of the Union Address President Juncker announced that the Commission will reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard even further. The objective of this upgrade was to equip the Agency with a standing corps of 10,000 border guards and to provide the agency with its own equipment to allow it to respond to challenges as they arise. The European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the Commission’s proposal on 28 March 2019. With the last step completed in the Council today, both institutions have now formally adopted the text.

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EU-Singapore agreement to enter into force on 21 November 2019

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EU Member States today endorsed the trade agreement between the EU and Singapore. This means the agreement will enter into force as soon as 21 November.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “This is the European Union’s first bilateral trade agreement with a Southeast Asian country, a building block towards a closer relationship between Europe and one of the most dynamic regions in the world. It crowns the efforts of this Commission to build a network of partners committed to open, fair and rules based trade. Trade has created 5 million new jobs in the EU since I took office in 2014, and now contributes to the employment of 36 million people. This, together with the fact that it accounts for 35% of the EU GDP, shows how critical trade is for Europe’s prosperity.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “Our trade agreement with Singapore provides further evidence of our commitment to fair and rules-based trade. The agreement will benefit workers, farmers and companies of all sizes, both here and in Singapore. It also includes strong clauses protecting human and labour rights and the environment. This agreement means that in the last five years we have put in place 16 EU trade deals. This brings the total to 42 trade agreements with 73 partners, accounting for a third of total EU trade. This is the largest such network in the world.”

Singapore is by far the EU’s largest trading partner in the Southeast Asian region, with a total bilateral trade in goods of over €53 billion and another €51 billion of trade in services. Over 10,000 EU companies are established in Singapore and use it as a hub for the whole Pacific region. Singapore is also the number one location for European investment in Asia, with investment between the EU and Singapore growing rapidly in recent years: combined bilateral investment stocks reached €344 billion in 2017.

Under the trade agreement, Singapore will remove all remaining tariffs on EU products. The agreement also provides new opportunities for EU services’ providers, among others in sectors such as telecommunications, environmental services, engineering, computing and maritime transport. It will also make the business environment more predictable. The agreement will also enable legal protection for 138* iconic European food and drink products, known as Geographical Indications. Singapore is already the third largest destination for such European specialty products. Singapore also agreed to remove obstacles to trade besides tariffs in key sectors, for instance by recognising the EU’s safety tests for cars and many electronic appliances or by accepting labels that EU companies use for textiles.

The EU and Singapore have also concluded an investment protection agreement, which can enter into force after it has been ratified by all EU Member States according to their own national procedures.

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EU Politics

Erasmus+: EU will invest over €3 billion in young Europeans to study or train abroad in 2020

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European Commission published its 2020 call for proposals for the Erasmus+ programme. 2020 is the last year of the current European Union programme for mobility and cooperation in education, training, youth and sport. The expected budget of over €3 billion, an increase of 12% compared to 2019, will provide even more opportunities for young Europeans to study, train or gain professional experience abroad. As part of the 2020 call for proposals, the Commission will launch a second pilot on European Universities. Moreover, the EU aims to create 35,000 opportunities for African students and staff to participate in the programme as part of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.

Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, said: “I am very pleased that in 2020 the European Union is set to invest more than €3 billion in Erasmus+. It will allow us to open up more opportunities for young Europeans to study or train abroad, enabling them to learn and develop a European identity. And it will help us to take the European Universities initiative forward, showing our continued investment in the European Education Area. I am proud to see higher education institutions form strong new alliances, paving the way for the universities of the future, for the benefit of students, staff and society across Europe.”

Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, added:“The new Erasmus funding opportunities for the vocational education and training sector will strengthen the Vocational Education and Training community; bridging sectors, regions and countries. Reinforcing ErasmusPro will make those bonds still tighter while giving more Vocational Education and Training learners more opportunities.”

Any public or private body active in the fields of education, training, youth and sport may apply for funding under this call for proposals. In addition, groups of young people who are active in youth work, but not formally established as youth organisations, may apply. Together with the call for proposals, today the Commission also published the Erasmus+ Programme Guide in all official EU languages. It provides applicants with details on all opportunities open to them in higher education, vocational education and training, school education and adult education, youth and sport under Erasmus+ in 2020.

European Universities

The first 17 European Universities were selected in June 2019. They are in the process of starting their activities. The second call for proposals launched today builds on this first test phase. The initiative will be the focus of a European Commission event on 7 November 2019, where all the European Universities selected so far will for the first time come together to exchange information and discuss the way forward with students, rectors and ministries responsible for higher education. Other universities will also be represented for discussions on the future of higher education in Europe.

Education, vocational training and adult learning

This will be the third year of the School Exchange Partnerships – an Erasmus+ action offering opportunities for European schools to exchange pupils and teachers. Over the past two years, more than 15,000 schools have participated. In 2020, another 9,000 schools will have the opportunity to take part.

In vocational education and training, investment focuses on ErasmusPro – opportunities for learners and apprentices to spend between three months and a year abroad, developing their professional and linguistic competences. Since its launch in 2018, ErasmusPro has succeeded in increasing the interest for long-term placements in vocational education and training, and has supported more than 12,000 learners per year. Support will also help set up “pilot” transnational vocational education and training Centres of Excellence, integrated in local and regional development strategies. The Centres will work closely with other education and training sectors, the scientific community and business to develop high quality curricula focused on sectoral skills.

In adult learning, financial support will help set up or strengthen regional or national networks of adult learning providers, so that they can offer an increased number of quality projects for the next Erasmus programme.

Additional opportunities in the Africa-Europe Alliance

As in 2019, this year’s call will offer additional opportunities to support exchanges for African students and staff to participate in Erasmus+. While 26,247 exchanges have already taken place, the aim is to support 35,000 people by 2020, as announced in the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs. Universities can also apply for capacity building in higher education projects, which contribute directly to the recommendations made at the recent Africa-Europe high-level Conference on Higher Education collaboration.

Background

Erasmus+ is the EU’s programme for mobility and transnational cooperation in the areas of education, training, youth and sport for the period 2014-2020. The current programme as well as its successor, coming into effect in 2021, have a key role in making the European Education Area a reality by 2025. Erasmus+ aims to facilitate access to the programme for participants from all backgrounds, with a particular focus on reaching out to people with social, economic, physical or geographic disadvantages.

In May 2018, the Commission has proposed to double the Erasmus budget to €30 billion for 2021-2027, making it possible for up to 12 million people to have an experience abroad.

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