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Agreement with Singapore set to give a boost to EU-Asia trade

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The trade and investment agreements between the EU and Singapore have today received the approval of the European Parliament. The Parliament has also given its green light to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

This marks an important step towards their entry into force, boosting the EU economic relations and cooperation with Singapore and leading to an increased presence in the fast-growing Southeast Asian region.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “The European Parliament’s approval of the EU-Singapore trade and investment agreements marks a historical moment. 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. We are forging closer economic and political ties with friends and partners who, like us, believe in open, reciprocal and rules-based trade. This is yet another win-win trade agreement negotiated by the European Union, an agreement that will create new opportunities for European producers, workers, farmers and consumers, while at the same time promoting cooperation and multilateralism.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “In uncertain times, we need agreements like these more than ever. They will help Europe and Singapore to prosper, boosting our trade and strengthening an already essential relationship. The agreements will benefit workers and farmers, as well as small and big companies on both sides. They include a strong commitment to human and labour rights and to protecting the environment. This is yet another signal that open, fair and rules-based global trade is here to stay.”

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 €51 billion-worth of trade in services. Over 10,000 EU companies are established in Singapore and use it as a hub to serve the whole Pacific region. Singapore is also the number one location for European investment in Asia, with investment between the two 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 and will commit to keep unchanged the current duty-free access for all other 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. 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 accepting labels that EU companies use for textiles.

The investment protection agreement will ensure a high level of investment protection, while safeguarding the EU’s and Singapore’s rights to regulate and pursue public policy objectives such as the protection of public health, safety and the environment. The agreement will replace 12 bilateral investment treaties existing between EU Members and Singapore putting in place a modern common investment protection framework with a well-balanced Investment Court System for resolving investment disputes.

With both agreements, the EU has made an important stride towards setting high standards and rules for its trade and investments with the fast-growing Southeast Asian region. The agreements offer huge economic opportunities, while fully safeguarding public services and parties’ right to regulate. The trade agreement also includes a comprehensive chapter on trade and sustainable development that sets the highest standards of labour, safety, environmental and consumer protection for trade and investment between the parties; as well as strengthening joint actions on sustainable development and climate change.

Partnership and Cooperation Agreement

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, said:“Today’s overwhelmingly positive vote in the European Parliament is good news for strengthening our relations with Singapore. In today’s world you need like-minded partners and friends. Our new agreement will allow us to build on what we have already and to do more together to achieve our common goals, both on the bilateral agenda and in tackling global challenges.”

The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement reinforces the existing relationship between the European Union and Singapore and builds on a shared commitment towards multilateralism and international rules-based order. This Agreement will provide the basis for more effective bilateral engagement between the EU and its Member States and Singapore by strengthening political dialogue and enhancing cooperation in a broad range of areas including sustainable development, democracy and fundamental freedoms, justice, security, connectivity, people-to-people links, information society, education and cultural exchanges as well as employment and social affairs. It will enable us to step up scientific and technological cooperation in fields such as energy, environment, fight against climate change, protection of natural resources, smart cities and transport. It will enhance cooperation on global challenges, where both Singapore and the EU play an increasingly important role, and will help address them in a more coherent way.

Negotiations for the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement started in 2005, and the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and her counterpart, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Vivian Balakrishnan, signed the agreement in the margins of the ASEM Summit on 19 October 2018. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will need to be ratified by all EU Member States before it enters into force.

Next steps

The EU and Singapore signed the trade and investment agreements on 19 October 2018. Following today’s vote, the trade agreement could then enter into force once Singapore concludes its own internal procedures and both sides complete the final formalities. The investment protection agreement will further need to be ratified by all EU Member States according to their own national procedures before it can enter into force.

Once in place, the agreements will be the first building block of a future region-to-region trade and investment agreement between the EU and entire ASEAN region.

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EU Politics

EU clears way for the EU Digital COVID Certificate

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Today, the Presidents of the three EU institutions, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission attended the official signing ceremony for the Regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, marking the end of the legislative process. On this occasion Presidents David Sassoli and Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister António Costa said:

“The EU Digital COVID Certificate is a symbol of what Europe stands for. Of a Europe that does not falter when put to the test. A Europe that unites and grows when faced with challenges. Our Union showed again that we work best when we work together. The EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation was agreed between our institutions in the record time of 62 days. While we worked through the legislative process, we also built the technical backbone of the system, the EU gateway, which is live since 1 June.

We can be proud of this great achievement. The Europe that we all know and that we all want back is a Europe without barriers. The EU Certificate will again enable citizens to enjoy this most tangible and cherished of EU rights – the right to free movement. Signed into law today, it will enable us to travel more safely this summer. Today we reaffirm together that an open Europe prevails.”

EU Digital COVID Certificate

The aim of the EU Digital COVID Certificate is to facilitate safe and free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. All Europeans have the right to free movement, also without the certificate, but the certificate will facilitate travel, exempting holders from restrictions like quarantine.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate will be accessible for everyone and it will:

  • cover COVID-19 vaccination, test and recovery;
  • be free of charge and available in all EU languages;
  • be available in a digital and paper-based format;
  • be secure and include a digitally signed QR code;

Member States shall refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.

In addition, the Commission committed to mobilising €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to support Member States in providing affordable tests.

The Regulation will apply for 12 months as of 1 July 2021.

Background

On 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal to create an EU COVID Certificate to facilitate the safe free movement of citizens within the EU during the pandemic. On 20 May, co-legislators reached a provisional agreement. On 1 June, the technical backbone of the systems, the EU gateway, went live. The gateway allows the verification of the security features contained in the QR codes.

Following the official signature today, the Regulation will enter into application on 1 July, with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those Member States that need additional time.

13 Member States have already started to issue EU Digital COVID Certificates.

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EU Politics

EU proposes a strong multilateral trade response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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EU has submitted its proposal seeking the commitment of World Trade Organization (WTO) members for a multilateral trade action plan to expand the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and ensure universal and fair access. With this proposal to the WTO, divided in two communications, the EU underlines the WTO’s central role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and urges fellow WTO members to agree on a set of commitments, including on intellectual property rights.

President von der Leyen said: “The EU has actively shown solidarity with the world since the beginning of the pandemic. The European Union authorized exports of around half of the total amount of vaccines produced in Europe. Our immediate, urgent goal is to ensure equitable access for low – and middle-income countries, to share vaccines wider and faster. And we continue to help ramping up production. The EU proposes concrete short and medium term solutions to ensure universal access at affordable prices. I am looking forward to discuss with the G7 leaders next week how to achieve this goal. Beyond the current crisis, it is important to ensure global preparedness for future pandemics: diversifying manufacturing so that it is not centralised only in a handful of countries and strengthening the resilience of the healthcare infrastructure in least developed countries”.

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The pandemic is still with us and there can be no room for complacency. We need to urgently concentrate on proposals that accelerate the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. In this respect, a strong multilateral trade response could deliver a huge boost in the fight against COVID-19. In reality, the main problem at this moment relates to the lack of sufficient manufacturing capacity to rapidly produce the required quantities. The objective must be to ensure that any available and adequate manufacturing capacity anywhere in the world is used for the COVID-19 vaccines production.”

More on the EU’s proposal

The EU calls on governments to:

  1. Ensure that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and their components can cross borders freely;
  2. encourage producers to expand their production, while ensuring that those countries most in need of vaccines receive them at an affordable price, and;
  3. facilitate the use of compulsory licensing within the WTO’s existing Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS Agreement already provides this flexibility, which is a legitimate tool during the pandemic that can be used swiftly where needed

The first element aims to limit the use of export restrictions and keep supply chains open. Vaccine-producing countries should be ready to export a fair share of their domestic production. Supply chains are highly interconnected and should not be disrupted. In addition, the EU considers that supplies to the COVAX Facility should never be restricted, and no measures should limit trade in inputs necessary for the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 

The second element calls on governments to strongly encourage and support vaccine manufacturers and developers to expand production and ensure the affordable supply of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Such actions could include licensing agreements, the sharing of expertise, tiered pricing including non-profit sales to low-income countries, contract manufacturing and new investments in manufacturing facilities in developing countries. The EU expects all vaccine producers and developers to make concrete pledges that increase supplies to vulnerable developing countries. In this regard, the EU welcomes the commitment of companies such as BioNTech and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, which have already committed to delivering 1.3 billion doses this year to low-income countries at no profit and to middle-income countries at lower cost.

The third element, on intellectual property, sets out that voluntary licences are the most effective instrument to facilitate the expansion of production and sharing of expertise. Where voluntary cooperation fails, compulsory licences, whereby a government grants a targeted licence allowing a willing producer to make a vaccine without the consent of a patent holder, are a legitimate tool in the context of a pandemic. The EU considers that all WTO members should be ready to:

  • agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional circumstance of national emergency, and that the requirement to negotiate with the rights’ holder may be legitimately waived where needed;
  • support manufacturers that are ready to produce vaccines and/or treatments at affordable prices under a compulsory licence so that the level of remuneration paid by the manufacturer to the patent holder reflects such affordable prices;
  • agree that the compulsory licence could cover any exports destined to countries that lack manufacturing capacity, including via the COVAX facility.

The EU is also tabling a dedicated communication on intellectual property to the WTO body in charge of implementing the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council). Here, the EU provides more detail and clarity on each of the three points on intellectual property and links them with the specific provisions in the TRIPS Agreement. As regards the broad waiver proposed by a number of WTO members, the European Commission, while ready to discuss any option that helps end the pandemic as soon as possible, is not convinced that this would provide the best immediate response to reach the objective of the widest and timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccines that the world urgently needs. Today’s proposals aim at achieving that objective in a swift and effective manner.

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EU Politics

EU Digital COVID Certificate: Parliament and Council reach agreement

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Photo: Lukas Souza/Unsplash

The Commission welcomes today’s provisional political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the Regulation governing the EU Digital COVID Certificate. This means that the certificate (previously called the Digital Green Certificate) is well on track to be ready end of June, as planned. Today’s agreement has been reached in record time just two months after the Commission’s proposal. The negotiations on the certificate for the Commission have been led by Commissioner Didier Reynders in close cooperation with Vice-Presidents Vera Jourová and Margaritis Schinas and Commissioners Thierry Breton, Stella Kyriakides, and Ylva Johansson.

Welcoming this swift progress, President Ursula von der Leyen said:

“We are delivering on our commitment to have the EU Digital COVID Certificate up and running before the summer. European citizens are looking forward to travelling again, and today’s agreement means they will be able to do so safely very soon.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate is free of charge, secure and accessible to all. It will cover vaccination, test and recovery offering different options to the citizens. It fully respects citizens’ fundamental rights, including protection of personal data.

All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU. The EU Digital COVID Certificate, available in paper or digital format, will make it easier for Europeans to travel – whether to see their families and loved ones or to get some well-deserved rest.

We would like to thank the European Parliament and the Portuguese Presidency for their dedication, perseverance and immense work at record speed to find an agreement on the proposal we presented.

Work still remains. At EU level, the system will be ready in the next few days. It is now crucial that all Member States press ahead with the roll-out of their national systems to ensure that the system can be up and running as soon as possible. This is what EU citizens rightly expect.

Today’s agreement has demonstrated that with the commitment and cooperation of all, the EU Digital COVID Certificate will be available on time.”

The EU Digital COVID Certificate – key features

Following the agreement reached by the European Parliament and the Council, the EU Digital COVID Certificate:

  • will cover vaccination, test and recovery;
  • will be available in a digital and paper-based format, depending on the choice of the recipients, and contain a digitally signed QR code;
  • will be free of charge, be obtained easily and also available to persons vaccinated before the EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation has entered into force;
  • may also be used by Member States for national purposes, if this is provided for in national law.
  • Member States shall refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.
  • The Commission will also mobilise €100 million to support Member States in providing affordable tests.

Next Steps

The political agreement will now have to be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. The Regulation will enter into force on 1 July, with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those Member States that need additional time.

In parallel, the Commission will continue to support the Member States in finalising their national solutions for the issuance and verification of EU Digital COVID Certificate, and to provide technical and financial support to Member States to on-board the gateway.

Background

On 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal to create an EU COVID certificate to facilitate the safe free movement of citizens within the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Commission’s request, the Parliament voted in favour of the activation of the urgent procedure for the two proposals on 25 March. The Council adopted its negotiating position on 14 April, and the Parliament did so on 29 April. On 20 May co-legislators reached provisional agreement on this file.

In parallel to the legislative process, important progress was already made on the technical side. The EU Gateway, which allows to verify certificates across borders, is ready and will go live as of June. Successful pilot tests took place with 17 Member States and Iceland during the last two weeks, further five Member States will test next week.

The Commission also provide open source reference software to support Member States to develop their national solution to issue certificates, to scan and check the QR codes, and a reference wallet for storage.

Previously, on 21 April, technical specification guidelines were adopted by Member States representatives in the eHealth Network, a voluntary network connecting national authorities responsible for eHealth. They are building on the close work of the Commission with the Member States, having resulted in first guidelines adopted in January and updated on 12 March, and a trust framework outline agreed on 12 March 2021. In addition, a common design template was developed in the eHealth network.

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