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EU and China reach agreement in principle on investment

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The EU and China have today concluded in principle the negotiations for a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI).  This deal follows a call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and European Commission President von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on behalf of the Presidency of the EU Council, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron. China has committed to a greater level of market access for EU investors than ever before, including some new important market openings. China is also making commitments to ensure fair treatment for EU companies so they can compete on a better level playing field in China, including in terms of disciplines for state owned enterprises, transparency of subsidies and rules against the forced transfer of technologies. For the first time, China has also agreed to ambitious provisions on sustainable development, including commitments on forced labour and the ratification of the relevant ILO fundamental Conventions.

The Agreement will create a better balance in the EU-China trade relationship. The EU has traditionally been much more open than China to foreign investment. This is true as regards foreign investment in general. China now commits to open up to the EU in a number of key sectors.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today‘s agreement is an important landmark in our relationship with China and for our values-based trade agenda. It will provide unprecedented access to the Chinese market for European investors, enabling our businesses to grow and create jobs. It will also commit China to ambitious principles on sustainability, transparency and non-discrimination. The agreement will rebalance our economic relationship with China”.

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “This deal will give European businesses a major boost in one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing markets, helping them to operate and compete in China. It also anchors our values-based trade agenda with one of our largest trading partners. We have secured binding commitments on the environment, climate change and combatting forced labour. We will engage closely with China to ensure that all commitments are honoured fully.”

The rules negotiated in this Agreement set a high benchmark in terms of transparency, level playing field, market access commitments and sustainable development. The EU’s work on planned autonomous measures in areas such as subsidies or due diligence will continue as a matter of priority.

Today’s conclusion in principle of the negotiations is a first step in the process; deliberations for the adoption and ratification of the agreement are yet to take place and will be conducted in full transparency.

During today’s call, the leaders also addressed climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong and human rights.  They took stock of the overall EU-China agenda, recording important progress on a number of key issues, while serving to underline the EU’s continued expectations and concerns in other areas. The EU also raised the negotiations for the Strategic Agenda for Cooperation 2025, and proposed that negotiators from both sides should resume their work now that significant progress has been made in the CAI negotiations. The EU side recalled its invitation for President Xi to join an EU-China Leaders’ meeting with the participation of the Heads of State and Government of the EU member states to be held in Brussels in 2021.

EU- China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment

Ambitious opening and level playing field for European investments

In terms of market access for EU businesses, China has made significant commitments on manufacturing, the most important sector for EU investment in China. Manufacturing makes up more than half of total EU investment – including 28% for the automotive sector and 22% for basic materials. This includes production of electric cars, chemicals, telecoms equipment and health equipment, among others.

China is also making commitments for EU investments in various services sectors, such as cloud services, financial services, private healthcare, environmental services, international maritime transport and air transport-related services.

In the sectors covered, European business will gain certainty and predictability for their operations as China will no longer be able to prohibit access or introduce new discriminatory practices.

The CAI will help to level the playing field for EU investors by laying down very clear rules on Chinese state-owned enterprises, transparency of subsidies, and prohibiting forced technology transfers and other distortive practices.

The agreement also includes guarantees that will make it easier for European companies to obtain authorisations and complete administrative procedures. It also secures access to China’s standard setting bodies for European companies.

Embedding sustainability in our investment relationship

The CAI will bind the parties into a values-based investment relationship underpinned by sustainable development principles. This is the first time that China agrees to such ambitious provisions with a trade partner. Amongst others, China is undertaking commitments in the areas of labour and environment such as not to lower the standards of protection in order to attract investment, to respect its international obligations, as well as to promote responsible business conduct by its companies. China has also agreed to effectively implement the Paris Agreement on climate change as well as to effectively implement the International Labour Organisation Conventions (ILO) it has ratified. China has also agreed to make continued and sustained efforts to ratify the ILO fundamental Conventions on forced labour.

Sustainable development matters will be subject to a solid enforcement mechanism by an independent panel of experts as in our other trade agreements. This means a transparent resolution of disagreements with the involvement of civil society.

Enforcement

The implementation of the commitments in the Agreement will be monitored at the level of Executive Vice President on the side of the EU and Vice Premier on China’s side. The State-to-State dispute resolution mechanism underpinning the agreement meets the highest standards found in existing EU trade agreements. The Agreement also creates a specific working group to follow the implementation of sustainable development related matters, including on labour and climate.

Continuation of negotiations on investment protection

The package deal reached today includes a commitment by both sides to try to complete negotiations on investment protection and investment dispute settlement within 2 years of the signature of the CAI. The common objective is to work towards modernised protection standards and a dispute settlement that takes into account the work undertaken in the context of UNCITRAL on a Multilateral Investment Court. The EU’s objective remains to modernise and replace the existing Member States’ Bilateral Investment Treaties with China.

Next steps

Both sides are now working towards finalising the text of the agreement, which will need to be legally reviewed and translated before it can be submitted for approval by the EU Council and the European Parliament.

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EU Politics

Coronavirus response: EU support for regions to work together in innovative pilot projects

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The Commission has announced the winners of a new EU-funded initiative for interregional partnerships in four areas: coronavirus-related innovative solutions, circular economy in health, sustainable and digital tourism, and hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions. The aim of this new pilot action, which builds on the successful experience of a similar action on “interregional innovation projects” launched at the end of 2017, is to mobilise regional and national innovation actors to address the impact of coronavirus. This initiative also helps the recovery using the new Commission programmes through scaling up projects in new priority areas, such as health, tourism or hydrogen.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “Interregional partnerships are proof that when we cooperate beyond borders, we are stronger as we come up with smart and useful solutions for all. This new pilot initiative supporting interregional innovative partnerships is especially important in the current coronavirus context, showing how much cohesion policy is committed to contribute to Europe’s prompt response and recovery.” 

Following a Commission’s call for expression of interest launched in July 2020, four interregional partnerships were selected, with one or several coordinating regions in the lead:

  • País Vasco (ES), together with three regions, will focus on the support to an emerging industry sector for prediction and prevention of the coronavirus pandemic;
  • In the field of Circular Economy in Health, the RegioTex partnership on textile innovation involves 16 regions led by North Portugal (PT);
  • In the field of Sustainable and Digital Tourism, the partnership coordinated by the Time Machine Organisation, an international cooperation network in technology, science and cultural heritage, involves five regions and Cyprus, led by Thüringen (DE); 
  • In order to enable the development of innovative solutions based on Hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions with a broad geographical coverage, two partnerships will merge: the European Hydrogen Valleys partnership gathering 12 regions led by Aragon (ES), Auvergne Rhône Alpes (FR), Normandie (FR) and Northern Netherlands (NL), and the partnership led by Košice Region (SK) with four other regions.

These partnerships will benefit from the Commission experts’ support, providing, among others, advice on how to best combine EU funds to finance projects. In addition to this hands-on support from the Commission, each partnership can benefit from external advisory service of up to €100,000 for scale-up and commercialisation activities. The money comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Next steps

The work with the partnerships will start in this month and will run for one year.This pilot further stimulates interregional cooperation, with the possibility for the partnerships to apply for support under the new programmes and the “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument from 2021 onwards.

Background

In recent years, the Commission has called on national and regional authorities to develop smart specialisation strategies aiming at more effective innovation policies and enhanced interregional cooperation in value chains across borders. To date, more than 180 regional smart specialisation strategies have been adopted. Their implementation is supported by €40 billion of EU Cohesion policy funds.

As part of a set of actions presented in 2017 by the Commission to take smart specialisation a step further, a pilot action on “Interregional innovation projects” sought to test new ways to encourage regions and cities to develop new value chains and scale up their good ideas in the EU single market. This pilot action, which involved nine partnerships in high-tech priority sectors, was completed in 2019 and showed significant potential to accelerate the investment readiness of interregional investment projects.

The lessons learned will be integrated in the new “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument proposed in the framework of the post 2020 Cohesion Policy package.

The new pilot action has similar goals. Moreover, in the context of the crisis, it aims at finding solutions to the coronavirus challenges and accelerating the recovery through the commercialisation and scale-up of innovation investment. 

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EU Politics

Commission proposes to purchase up to 300 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine

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image: BioNTech

The European Commission today proposed to the EU Member States to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech and Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.  

This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU.

The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021. 

The EU has acquired a broad portfolio of vaccines with different technologies. It has secured up to 2.3 billion doses from the most promising vaccine candidates for Europe and its neighbourhood.  

In addition to the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, was authorised on 6 January 2021. Other vaccines are expected to be approved soon.  

This vaccine portfolio would enable the EU not only to cover the needs of its whole population, but also to supply vaccines to neighbouring countries.

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EU Politics

Brexit deal: How new EU-UK relations will affect you

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EU-UK relations are changing following Brexit and the deal reached at the end of 2020. Find out what this means for you.

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. There was a transition period during which the UK remained part of the Single market and Customs Union to allow for negotiations on the future relations. Following intense negotiations, an agreement on future EU-UK relations was concluded end of December 2020. Although it will be provisionally applied, it will still need to be approved by the Parliament before it can formally enter into force. MEPs are currently scrutinising the text in the specialised parliamentary committees before voting on it during a plenary session.

A number of issues were already covered by the withdrawal agreement, which the EU and the UK agreed at the end of 2019. This agreement on the separation issues deals with the protection of the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in other parts of the EU, the UK’s financial commitments undertaken as a member state, as well as border issues, especially on the Isle of Ireland.

Living and working in the UK or the EU

EU citizens in the UK or UK citizens in an EU member state who were already living there before January 2021 are allowed to continue living and working where they are now provided they registered and were granted settlement permits by the national authorities of the member states or the UK.

For those UK citizens not already living in the EU, their right to live and work in any EU country apart from the Republic of Ireland (as the UK has a separate agreement with them) is not automatically granted and can be subject to restrictions. Also, they no longer have their qualifications automatically recognised in EU countries, which was previously the case.

For UK citizens wanting to visit or stay in the EU for more than 90 days for any reason need to meet the requirements for entry and stay for people from outside the EU. This also applies to UK citizens with a second home in the EU.

People from the EU wanting to move to the UK for a long-term stay or work – meaning more than six months – will need to meet the migration conditions set out by the UK government, including applying for a visa.

Travelling

UK citizens can visit the EU for up to 90 days within any 180-day period without needing a visa.

However, UK citizens can no longer make use of the EU’s fast track passport controls and customs lanes. They also need to have a return ticket and be able to prove they have enough funds for their stay. They also need to have at least six months left on their passport.

EU citizens can visit the UK for up to six months without needing a visa. EU citizens will need to present a valid passport to visit the UK.

Healthcare

EU citizens temporarily staying in the UK still benefit from emergency healthcare based on the European Health Insurance Card. For stays longer than six months, they need to pay a healthcare surcharge.

Pensioners continue to benefit from healthcare where they live. The country paying for their pension will reimburse the country of residence.

Erasmus

The UK has decided to stop participating in the popular Erasmus+ exchange programme and to create its own exchange programme. Therefore EU students will not be able to participate in exchange programme in the UK anymore. However, people from Northern Ireland can continue to take part.

Trade in goods and services

With the agreement, goods exchanged between the UK and EU countries are not subject to tariffs or quotas. However, there are new procedures for moving goods to and from the UK as border controls on the respect of the internal market rules (sanitary, security, social, environmental standard for example) or applicable UK regulation are in place. This means more red tape and additional costs. For example, all imports into the EU are subject to customs formalities while they must also meet all EU standards so they are subject to regulatory checks and controls. This does not apply to goods being moved between Northern Ireland and the EU.

Regarding services, UK companies no longer have the automatic right to offer services across the EU. If they want to continue operating in the EU, they will need to establish themselves here.

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