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EU-Japan trade agreement enters into force

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The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and Japan enters into force on 1 February 2019. Businesses and consumers across Europe and in Japan can now take advantage of the largest open trade zone in the world.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “Europe and Japan are sending a message to the world about the future of open and fair trade. We are opening a new marketplace home to 635 million people and almost a third of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, bringing the people of Europe and Japan closer together than ever before. The new agreement will give consumers greater choice and cheaper prices; it will protect great European products in Japan and vice-versa, such as the Austrian Tiroler Speck or Kobe Beef; it will give small businesses on both sides the chance to branch out to a completely new market; it will save European companies 1 billion euro in duties every year and turbo-boost the trade we already do together. More than anything, our agreement shows that trade is about more than quotas and tariffs, or millions and billions. It is about values, principles and fairness. It makes sure that our principles in areas such as labour, safety, climate and consumer protection are the global gold-standard. This only happens when you work with the most natural of partners, separated by thousands of kilometres but united in friendship and values.

Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Trade, said: “This agreement has it all: it scraps tariffs and contributes to the global rulebook, whilst at the same time demonstrating to the world that we both remain convinced by the benefits of open trade. As of 1 February, European companies will benefit from removed tariffs and simplified customs procedures. Our manufacturers, our service providers, our tech start-ups and our farmers all have something to celebrate. I am also proud that we have locked in our Paris climate deal commitments into a trade agreement for the first time, as well as setting high standards for workers’ rights and consumer protection. The stage is set for a significant boost in trade between us, which in turn creates jobs and lowers prices. It is now up to businesses and individuals to make the very most out of these new trade opportunities. We also count on all EU Member States to spread this message far and wide.

The Economic Partnership Agreement removes the vast majority of the €1 billion of duties paid annually by EU companies exporting to Japan. Once the agreement is fully implemented, Japan will have scrapped customs duties on 97% of goods imported from the EU.   The agreement also removes a number of long-standing non-tariff barriers, for example by endorsing international standards on cars. It will also break down barriers for key EU food and drink exporters to 127 million Japanese consumers and will increase export opportunities in a range of other sectors. Annual trade between the EU and Japan could increase by nearly €36 billion once the agreement is implemented in full.

The EU and Japan have agreed to set ambitious standards on sustainable development, and the text includes for the first time a specific commitment to the Paris climate agreement.

The key parts of the Economic Partnership Agreement

With regards to agricultural exports from the EU, the agreement will, in particular:

  • scrap Japanese duties on many cheeses such as Gouda and Cheddar (which currently are at 29.8%) as well as on wine exports (currently at 15% on average);
  • allow the EU to increase its beef exports to Japan substantially, while on pork there will be duty-free trade in processed meat and almost duty-free trade for fresh meat;
  • ensure the protection in Japan of more than 200 high-quality European agricultural products, so called Geographical Indications (GIs), and the protection of a selection of Japanese GIs in the EU.

The agreement also secures the opening of services markets, in particular financial services, e-commerce, telecommunications and transport. It furthermore:

  • facilitates to EU companies access to the procurement markets of 54 large Japanese cities, and removes obstacles to procurement in the economically important railway sector at national level;
  • addresses specific sensitivities in the EU, for instance in the automotive sector, with transition periods of up to 7 years before customs duties are eliminated.

The agreement also includes a comprehensive chapter on trade and sustainable development; includes specific elements to simplify for small and medium-sized businesses; sets very high standards of labour, safety, environmental and consumer protection; strengthens EU and Japan’s commitments on sustainable development and climate change and fully safeguards public services.

Concerning data protection, the EU and Japan adopted decisions on 23 January of this year to allow personal data to flow freely and safely between the two partners. They agreed to recognise each other’s data protection systems as ‘equivalent’, which will create the world’s largest area of safe data flows.

As of 1 February, a large part of another agreement – the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Japan – also applies on a provisional basis.  This Agreement, which was signed in July of last year together with the Economic Partnership Agreement, is the first-ever bilateral framework agreement between the EU and Japan and strengthens the overall partnership by providing an overarching framework for enhanced political and sectoral cooperation and joint actions on issues of common interest, including on regional and global challenges. The Agreement will enter into force once it has been ratified by all EU Member States.

Next steps

The Economic Partnership Agreement is now in force. To take stock of the initial months of implementation, the first EU-Japan committee meeting will be convened in April 2019 in Brussels.
On the parallel issue of investment protection, negotiations with Japan continue on standards and investment protection dispute resolution, with a meeting of Chief Negotiators scheduled for March. The firm commitment on both sides is to reach convergence in the investment protection negotiations as soon as possible, in light of their shared commitment to a stable and secure investment environment in Europe and Japan.

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General Data Protection Regulation: One year on

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On 25 May 2019, the General Data Protection Regulation will celebrate its first year of entry into application. To mark the occasion, Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market and Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, issued the following statement:

“25 May marks the anniversary of Europe’s new data protection rules, the General Data Protection Regulation, also widely known as the GDPR. These game-changing rules have not only made Europe fit for the digital age, they have also become a global reference point.

The main aim of the rules has been to empower people and help them to gain more control over their personal data. This is already happening as people are starting to use their new rights and more than two-third of Europeans have heard of the regulation.

Also, companies now benefit from one set of rules applying throughout our Union. They have put their house in order when it comes to data, which led to increased data security and a trust-based relationship with their clients.

The GDPR gave authorities teeth to tackle breaches. For example, one year on, the newly established European Data Protection Board has registered over 400 cross-border cases around Europe. This is a testimony to the additional benefit of the GDPR, as data protection does not stop at national borders.

People are becoming more aware – and this is a very encouraging sign. New figures show that nearly six in ten people know that there is a data protection authority in their country. This is a significant increase from four in ten people back in 2015. The data protection authorities have an essential role to play in making GDPR deliver on the ground.

The new law has become Europe’s regulatory floor that shapes our response in many other areas. From Artificial Intelligence, development of 5G networks to integrity of our elections, strong data protection rules help to develop our policies and technologies based on people’s trust.

The principles of the GDPR are also radiating beyond Europe. From Chile to Japan, from Brazil to South Korea, from Argentina to Kenya, we are seeing new privacy laws emerge,

based on strong safeguards, enforceable individual rights, and independent supervisory authorities. Such upward convergence offers new opportunities to promote data flows based on trust and security.

The GDPR has changed the landscape in Europe and beyond. But compliance is a dynamic process and does not happen overnight. Our key priority for months to come is to ensure proper and equal implementation in the Member States. We urge the Member States to respect to the letter and the spirit of the GDPR in order to create a predictable environment and avoid unnecessary burden for stakeholders, in particular SMEs. We will also continue our close collaboration with the European Data Protection Board and national data protection authorities, as well as businesses and civil society to address the most burning questions and facilitate the implementation of the new rules.”

Background

The General Data Protection Regulation is a single set of rules with a common EU approach to the protection of personal data, directly applicable in the Member States. It reinforces trust by putting individuals back in control of their personal data and at the same time guarantees the free flow of personal data between EU Member States. The protection of personal data is a fundamental right in the European Union.

The GDPR has been applicable since 25 May 2018. Since then, nearly all Member States have adapted their national laws in the light of GDPR. The national Data Protection Authorities are in charge of enforcing the new rules and are better coordinating their actions thanks to the new cooperation mechanisms and the European Data Protection Board. They are issuing guidelines on key aspects of the GDPR to support the implementation of the new rules.

The Commission will take stock of one year of application of the GDPR in an event to be held on 13 June. As foreseen by the GDPR, the Commission will report on the application of the new rules in 2020.

Today, the first results of a special Eurobarometer on data protection, collecting the views of over 27,000 people across the EU will be released. The European Commission will release the full Eurobarometer results at the anniversary event on 13 June.

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EU-Armenia Partnership: EU is a crucial partner for Armenia’s reform agenda

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The European Union has today issued a report on developments in Armenia and EU-Armenia relations between June 2018 and early May 2019. The report comes ahead of the EU-Armenia Partnership Council on 13 June. It finds that Armenia has stepped up its efforts to reinforce and enhance its partnership with the EU, and that Armenia consistently acknowledged the significant role the EU can play in the smooth implementation of the country’s reform agenda. However, the reform process remains at an early stage. The government’s roadmap for the implementation of the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement will be an important instrument in advancing reform plans.

“The European Union has been and will continue be the biggest supporter of the Armenian government’s ambitious reform plan, which is consolidating democracy, the rule of law and promoting human rights in the country”, said the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini. ”Armenia is an important partner for the European Union, and together we are focussed on implementing our wide-reaching bilateral agreement, as well as delivering concrete results within the Eastern Partnership. We always keep firmly in mind that our aim is bringing tangible benefits to our citizens.”

“The EU and Armenia are strong partners and we stand ready to support concrete reforms, including in the area of justice and education, which are key for the people”, said the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn. “The swift implementation of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement offers new economic opportunities for all Armenian citizens.”

After the political changes in Armenia last year, early parliamentary elections were held in December 2018. The EU was the largest single contributor to the elections, providing technical equipment and supporting actions in favour of democracy and civic participation. According to the International Elections Observation Mission, the elections respected fundamental freedoms and enjoyed broad public trust. In addition, the Government highlighted the need for independence, accountability and efficiency of the judiciary. In September 2018, the EU and Armenia launched the EU-Armenia Strategic Policy Dialogue in the Justice Sector. The EU stands ready to support reform in this crucial field.

Total EU-Armenia trade increased by 15% over the past year reaching a total value of €1.1 billion. Armenia benefits from the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences plus (GSP+), which is a special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance. More than 96% of EU imports eligible for GSP+ preferences from Armenia entered the EU with zero duties in 2017. The extension of the core Trans European Transport Network (TEN-T) to Armenia was finalised in November 2018. The Indicative TEN-T Investment Action Plan was published in January 2019 and also includes road safety as one of its priorities.

An EU-Armenia Education Policy Dialogue was inaugurated in March 2019 to support the reform in the education sector. Thanks to the support of the Erasmus+ capacity building projects, Armenian universities have been able to upgrade their administrative and organisational structures and modernise study courses. More than 2,700 students and university professors have benefited from EU-Armenia academic exchanges and mobility projects through Erasmus+ since 2015. At the end of 2018, a new ‘EU4Innovation’ programme worth €23 million was launched aimed at matching the skills of university graduates with the requirements of the labour market. The programme will create a EU4Innovation Centre for universities and an EU Convergence Centre to bring together universities and private sector, complemented by an incubator for technology start-ups.

The EU is the biggest provider of financial support and a key reform partner in Armenia. The EU stands ready to continue engaging in Armenia and provide support through political dialogue, financial and technical assistance, to support the Armenian government ambitious reforms for the benefit of the citizens of Armenia and EU-Armenia cooperation.

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Erasmus+: a turning point in the lives of 5 million European students

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New evidence shows that Erasmus+ makes students more successful in their personal and professional lives and helps universities to become more innovative, according to two new independent studies released today by the European Commission.

The large-scale studies based on the feedback from nearly 77 000 students and staff and over 500 organisations measure and analyse the impact the Erasmus+ programme has on its main beneficiaries. Results show how the EU programme helps prepare young Europeans for the new digital era and thrive in their future careers. Erasmus+ also boosts innovation capacity of universities, their international engagement and ability to answer the needs of the labour market.

Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics said: “It is impressive to see how Erasmus+ enables young people to thrive in the modern labour market and in a more diverse society. I am happy to see that Erasmus+ graduates feel more ready to take on new challenges, have better career prospects and are more aware of the benefits the EU brings to their daily lives. At the same time, universities that take part in Erasmus+ are not only more international but also better placed to respond to the needs of the world of work.”

The key findings of the studies are:

Erasmus+ helps students find their desired careers and get jobs quicker

Over 70% of former Erasmus+ students say that they have a better understanding of what they want to do in their future careers when they return from abroad. Their experience abroad also enables them to re-orient their studies to better match their ambitions. The higher education impact study further reveals that 80% were employed within three months of graduation and 72% say their experience abroad helped them get their first job. Nine in ten Erasmus+ alumni say they make use of the skills and experiences acquired abroad in their daily work. Erasmus+ addresses skills mismatches by focusing on soft and interdisciplinary skills development businesses need.

Erasmus+ boosts European sense of belonging

More than 90% of Erasmus+ students also improve their ability to work and collaborate with people from different cultures and feel they have a European identity. The biggest impact is on the students who felt less convinced about the EU prior to their exchange and the students that spent time in a more culturally different country. Of all Erasmus+ students those coming from Eastern Europe identify the most with the EU. 

Erasmus+ supports digital transformation and social inclusion

Erasmus+ cooperation projects make the majority of participating universities better prepared for digital transformation. Making use of new technologies and innovative teaching and learning methods helps strengthen their international cooperation and innovation capacity. Academic staff, who made use of Erasmus+ are more open to involving staff from enterprises in their courses than their non-mobile peers, around 60% compared to 40%. More than 80% of academics report that their experience abroad has led to the development of more innovative curricula. Moreover, two out of three participating universities stated EU-wide projects also contribute to increasing social inclusion and non-discrimination in higher education.

Other findings show that former Erasmus+ students are more satisfied with their jobs compared to those who have not gone abroad. They also have careers that are more international and are almost twice as likely to work abroad. Erasmus+ also supports entrepreneurship. One in four cooperation projects contributed to entrepreneurial education and strengthened entrepreneurship. A third of projects helped create spin-offs and start-ups.

Background

Between 2014 and 2018, more than 2 million students and staff in higher education undertook a learning, training or teaching period abroad as part of the Erasmus+ programme. During the same period, almost 1 000 Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships between higher education institutions and 93 Knowledge Alliances between universities and businesses received EU funding. More than 40% of these trained students and academic staff in forward-looking skills related to environment and climate change, energy and resources, digital (ICT and digital skills) and entrepreneurship.

The two studies (Erasmus+ Higher Education Impact study and the Erasmus+ Higher Education Strategic Partnerships and Knowledge Alliances study) assessed the impact of the programme on its two main beneficiaries: individuals and organisations.

For the first study, almost 77 000 responses, including from around 47 000 Erasmus+ students, 12 000 graduates and 10 000 staff members with Erasmus+ experience were analysed. The findings of the second study are based on responses from 258 Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships and Knowledge Alliances (representing 504 organisations) awarded funding in 2014-2016 as well as 26 detailed case studies.

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