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EU and Mercosur reach agreement on trade

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The European Union and Mercosur reached today a political agreement for an ambitious, balanced and comprehensive trade agreement. The new trade framework – part of a wider Association Agreement between the two regions – will consolidate a strategic political and economic partnership and create significant opportunities for sustainable growth on both sides, while respecting the environment and preserving interests of EU consumers and sensitive economic sectors.

The EU is the first major partner to strike a trade pact with Mercosur, a bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil Paraguay and Uruguay. The agreement concluded today will cover a population of 780 million and cement the close political and economic relations between the EU and Mercosur countries. It represents a clear commitment from both regions to rules based international trade and will give European companies an important head start into a market with an enormous economic potential. It will anchor important economic reforms and modernisation undergoing in Mercosur countries. The agreement upholds the highest standards of food safety and consumer protection, as well as the precautionary principle for food safety and environmental rules and contains specific commitments on labour rights and environmental protection, including the implementation of the Paris climate agreement and related enforcement rules.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I measure my words carefully when I say that this is a historical moment. In the midst of international trade tensions, we are sending today a strong signal with our Mercosur partners that we stand for rules-based trade. Through this trade pact, Mercosur countries have decided to open up their markets to the EU. This is obviously great news for companies, workers and the economy on both sides of the Atlantic, saving over €4 billion worth of duties per year. This makes it the largest trade agreement the EU has ever concluded. Thanks to the hard and patient work of our negotiators, this is matched with positive outcomes for the environment and consumers. And that’s what makes this agreement a win-win deal.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström added: “Today’s agreement brings Europe and South America closer together in a spirit of cooperation and openness. Once this deal is in place, it will create a market of 780 million people, providing enormous opportunities for EU businesses and workers in countries with whom we have strong historical links and whose markets have been relatively closed up to now. The agreement will save European companies over €4 billion in duties at the border – four times as much as our deal with Japan – whilst giving them a head start against competitors from elsewhere in the world. It also sets high standards and establishes a strong framework to jointly address issues like the environment and labour rights, as well as reinforcing sustainable development commitments we have already made, for example under the Paris Agreement. Over the past few years the EU has consolidated its position as the global leader in open and sustainable trade. Agreements with 15 countries have entered into force since 2014, notably with Canada and Japan. This agreement adds four more countries to our impressive roster of trade allies.”

Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, said: “The EU-Mercosur agreement is a fair and balanced deal with opportunities and benefits on both sides, including for Europe’s farmers. Our distinctive, high quality EU agri-food products will now get the protection in Mercosur countries that they deserve, supporting our market position and growing our export opportunities. Today’s agreement also presents some challenges to European farmers and the European Commission will be available to help farmers meet these challenges. For this agreement to be a win-win, we will only open up to agricultural products from Mercosur with carefully managed quotas that will ensure that there is no risk that any product will flood the EU market and thereby threaten the livelihood of EU farmers.”

Main features of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement

The EU-Mercosur region-to-region agreement will remove the majority of tariffs on EU exports to Mercosur, making EU companies more competitive by saving them €4 billion worth of duties per year.

As regards EU industrial sectors, this will help boost exports of EU products that have so far been facing high and sometimes prohibitive tariffs. Those include cars (tariff of 35%), car parts (14-18%), machinery (14-20%), chemicals (up to 18%), pharmaceuticals (up to 14%), clothing and footwear (35%) or knitted fabrics (26%).

The EU agri-food sector will benefit from slashing existing Mercosur high tariffs on EU export products, chocolates and confectionery (20%), wines (27%), spirits (20 to 35%), and soft drinks (20 to 35%). The agreement will also provide duty-free access subject to quotas for EU dairy products (currently 28% tariff), notably for cheeses.

Mercosur countries will also put in place legal guarantees protecting from imitation 357 high-quality European food and drink products recognised as Geographical Indications (GIs), such as Tiroler Speck (Austria), Fromage de Herve (Belgique), Münchener Bier (Germany), Comté (France), Prosciutto di Parma (Italy), Polska Wódka (Poland), Queijo S. Jorge (Portugal), Tokaji (Hungary) or Jabugo (Spain).

The agreement will open up new business opportunities in Mercosur for EU companies selling under government contracts, and to service suppliers in the information technology, telecommunications and transport sectors, among others. It will simplify border checks, cut red tape and limit the use of export taxes by Mercosur countries. Smaller companies on both sides will also benefit thanks to a new online platform providing easy access to all relevant information.

While delivering significant economic benefits, the agreement also promotes high standards. The EU and Mercosur commit to effectively implement the Paris Climate Agreement. A dedicated sustainable development chapter will cover issues such as sustainable management and conservation of forests, respect for labour rights and promotion of responsible business conduct. It also offers civil society organisations an active role to overview the implementation of the agreement, including any human rights, social or environmental concerns. The agreement will also provide for a new forum to work closely together on a more sustainable approach to agriculture and, as part of the political dialogue under the Association Agreement, address the rights of indigenous communities. The agreement also safeguards the EU and Mercosur’s right to regulate in the public interest and preserves the right to organise public services in the way they consider appropriate.

EU food safety standards will remain unchanged and all imports will have to comply with the EU’s rigorous standards, as is the case today. The agreed food safety, and animal and plant health provisions will reinforce cooperation with the authorities of the partner countries and speed up the flow of information about any potential risks through a more direct and efficient information and notification system. In this way, the agreement will increase our efficiency in ensuring the safety of the products traded between the EU and Mercosur countries.

The trade agreement reached today is part of a comprehensive new Association Agreement under negotiation between the EU and Mercosur countries. It is composed of a political and cooperation pillar – on which negotiators already reached a general agreement in June 2018 in Montevideo – and the trade pillar. Beyond trade, the agreement will enhance political dialogue and increase cooperation in areas such as migration, digital economy, research and education, human rights, including the rights of indigenous people, corporate and social responsibility, environment protection, ocean governance, as well as fight against terrorism, money laundering and cybercrime. It will also offer increased possibilities for cooperation at multilateral level. The Association Agreement will complete the network of Association Agreements in the Americas and consolidate the relations with the important partners in the region, supporting EU positions on many global issues.

Another milestone trade agreement concluded by the Juncker Commission

Agreement Population covered Trade in goods Trade in services Tariff savings
for EU companies
Joint GDP
Canada 550 million €72 billion €35 billion €0.6 billion €18 trillion
Japan 639 million €135 billion €53 billion €1 billion €21 trillion
Mercosur 773 million €88 billion €34 billion Over €4 billion €19 trillion

Both sides will now perform a legal revision of the agreed text to come up with the final version of the Association Agreement and all its trade aspects. The Commission will then translate it into all official EU languages and submit the Association Agreement to EU Member States and the European Parliament for approval.

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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 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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Coronavirus: EU Strategy for the development and availability of therapeutics

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The European Commission is today complementing the successful EU Vaccines Strategy with a strategy on COVID-19 therapeutics to support the development and availability of much-needed COVID-19 therapeutics, including for the treatment of ‘long COVID’. Today’s Strategy covers the full lifecycle of medicines: from research, development and manufacturing to procurement and deployment.

It is part of the strong European Health Union, in which all EU countries prepare and respond together to health crises and ensure the availability of affordable and innovative medical supplies – including the therapeutics needed to treat COVID-19.

The Strategy includes clear actions and targets, including authorising three new therapeutics to treat COVID-19 by October 2021 and possibly two more by end of the year. Concretely:

  • Research, development and innovation
    • Invest €90 million in population studies and clinical trials to establish links between risk factors and health outcomes to further inform public health policy and clinical management, including for long-COVID patients.
    • Set up a ‘therapeutics innovation booster’ by July 2021 to support the most promising therapeutics from preclinical research to market authorisation. It will build on current initiatives and investments in therapeutic development, working in a close cooperation with the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) preparatory action on mapping therapeutics. It will therefore ensure the coordination of all research projects on COVID-19 therapeutics, stimulating innovation and boosting therapeutic development.
  • Access to and swift approval of clinical trials
    • Invest €5 million under the EU4Health programme to generate better, high-quality safety data in clinical trials, which will help produce robust results in a timely manner.
    • Provide EU countries with financial support of €2 million under the EU4Health 2021 work programme for expedited and coordinated assessments to facilitate approval of clinical trials.
    • Explore how to support developers of therapeutics to build capacity to produce high-grade material for clinical trials.
  • Scanning for candidate therapeutics
    • Invest €5 million to map therapeutics and diagnostics to analyse development phases, production capacities and supply chains, including possible bottlenecks.
    • Establish a broader portfolio of 10 potential COVID-19 therapeutics and identify five of the most promising ones by June 2021.
  • Supply chains and delivery of medicines
    • Fund a €40 million preparatory action to support flexible manufacturing and access for COVID-19 therapeutics under the EU Fab project, which in turn will become over time an important asset for the future the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA).
  • Regulatory flexibility
    • Authorise at least three new therapeutics by October and possibly two more by the end of the year and develop flexible regulatory approaches to speed up the assessment of promising and safe COVID-19 therapeutics.
    • Start seven rolling reviews of promising therapeutics by end-2021, subject to research and development outcomes.
  • Joint procurement and financing
    • Launch new contracts for the purchase of authorised therapeutics by the end of the year.
    • Secure faster access to medicines with shorter administrative deadlines.
  • International cooperation to make medicines available to all
    • Reinforce engagement for the therapeutics pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.
    • Boost ‘OPEN’ initiative for international collaboration.

Next Steps

The Commission will draw up a portfolio of 10 potential COVID-19 therapeutics and by June 2021, identify the five most promising ones. It will organise matchmaking events for industrial actors involved in therapeutics to ensure enough production capacity and swift manufacturing. New authorisations, rolling reviews and joint procurement contracts will be up and running before the end of the year.

The therapeutics innovation booster, matchmaking events and preparatory action to support flexible manufacturing and access for COVID-19 therapeutics under the EU Fab project, will feed into the HERA, for which a proposal is due later in the year. The pilot project on access to health data will feed into the European Health Data Space proposal expected later this year.

Members of the College said:

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “The situation in many intensive care units across the continent remains critical. We need to focus both on vaccines and therapeutics, as two powerful and complementary ways to combat COVID-19. But currently we have only one authorised medicine to treat COVID-19. By acting on better availability of medicines today, we are making sure patients receive the treatments they need while also preparing our future biomedical preparedness. A coordinated strategy on quick access to therapeutics will boost our strategic autonomy and contribute to a strong Health Union.”

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said: “Vaccinations save lives, but they cannot yet eradicate COVID-19. We need a strong push on treatments to limit the need for hospitalisation, speed up recovery times, and reduce mortality. Patients in Europe and across the world should have access to world-class COVID-19 medicines. This is why we have set a very clear goal: by October, we will develop and authorise three new effective COVID-19 therapeutics that can have the potential to change the course of the disease. We will do so by investing in research and innovation, the identification of new promising medicines, ramping up production capacity and supporting equitable access. Our Therapeutics Strategy is a strong European Health Union in action.”

Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, said: “By increasing vaccine availability across Europe, more and more Europeans are now protected against COVID-19. In the meantime, the development of innovative medicines to treat coronavirus patients remains a priority when it comes to saving lives. Research and innovation is the first step to finding effective and safe therapeutics, which is why we are proposing to establish a new COVID-19 ‘therapeutics innovation booster’ and will invest € 90 million in population studies and clinical trials.

Background

The Strategy on COVID-19 therapeutics complements the EU strategy for COVID-19 vaccines from June 2020 and builds on ongoing work by the European Medicines Agency and the Commission to support research, development, manufacturing and deployment of therapeutics.

The Strategy forms part of a strong European Health Union, using a coordinated EU approach to better protect the health of our citizens, equip the EU and its Member States to better prevent and address future pandemics, and improve the resilience of Europe’s health systems.

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