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Speech by Tomaž Jeršič, MA, state secretary at the Ministry of the Economy, delivered to the INTA Committee on International Trade of the European Parliament

Presentation of the activities and achievements of Slovenia's Presidency of the EU in the field of international trade policy


Mr Markov, esteemed members of the Committee,

It is my great pleasure to present the achievements of the Council of the EU and major activities in the field of trade policy over the past six months during the Slovenian Presidency. The Presidency welcomed the cooperation with your Committee during this time. Please allow me to thank you here today for your constructive input on matters where we sought your support.

I would like to add that despite the negative outcome of the Irish referendum, Europe will not be deterred. Close intra-institutional cooperation and constructive exchanges of opinion continue to be crucial for achieving success and results.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the area of the EU's common commercial policy, Slovenia's Presidency placed special emphasis on negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda (WTO-DDA), and great efforts were made to achieve progress in this regard. In this context the Presidency has always supported the endeavours of the European Commission and Member States towards a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced conclusion, not only in agriculture and the NAMA, but also in services, regulations, the environment and trade facilitation.

The first revised modalities for the fields of agriculture and NAMA were sent to the WTO member countries in February. At its meeting in March 2008, the General Affairs and External Relations Council adopted resolutions and emphasised the importance of a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced result in all aspects of DDA negotiations. At the May General Affairs and External Relations Council, the ministers of the EU Member States discussed the second revision of the modalities for agriculture and NAMA. Although they expressed their disappointment over the insufficient balance between negotiation topics, they also expressed support for the European Commission's further efforts to reach a successful conclusion to the negotiations.

In the area of services, a special signalling conference was also scheduled to be organised in which the WTO member countries would commit to taking on political commitments.

Esteemed delegates, there is no need to point out that negotiating an agreement on the Doha Development Agenda (WTO-DDA) is a highly challenging task. The pressure to conclude negotiations before the end of this year is strong. The next ministerial conference, where modalities are expected to be adopted (parallel to carrying out a signalling conference on services), can be expected within the next few weeks, however there are still a great many outstanding issues, especially regarding non-agricultural products, which could potentially cause further delays.

One of the priority tasks of Slovenia's Presidency in the area of trade policy was the adoption of the Regulation on the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) for the period 2009–2011. Recently, a compromise agreement was reached on the proposed Regulation, which is scheduled to be formally adopted by the Council within the next month. The final text of the proposed Regulation remains true to the original guidelines to use the general tariff preferences in the 2006–2015 period. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for giving your opinion in a relatively short period of time, as well as providing valuable feedback and constructive proposals.

Slovenia's Presidency has been aware of the great importance of good access to third-country markets for European industry. For this reason it endeavoured to keep the initial momentum of implementing the strategy of market access after its modernisation, both through discussion at the 133 Committee and through activities on other levels.

The Slovenian Presidency organised a seminar in cooperation with the European Commission in June 2008. The aim of the seminar, which took place in Brussels, was mainly to define guidelines to ensure efficient operation of the partnership in the future. The participants of the seminar, which was also attended by representatives of your Committee, agreed that, in terms of implementing the Market Access Partnership, a great step forward was taken in the past year in the context of fighting trade obstacles on third markets. At the same time, they believed that different skills of individual members of the Partnership should be combined more efficiently in the future, and the contact network should be strengthened, especially on the local level. In addition to this, activities taking place within the Partnership should be brought closer to companies, especially SMEs, as these companies themselves have neither the time nor staff capabilities to tackle non-tariff obstacles in their trading activities. Attention should also be devoted to the prevention of new trade obstacles.

Even if not listed among our main priorities at the beginning of our Presidency, we successfully managed to reach a compromise on ACTA – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – with a view to starting multilateral negotiations with other participating countries soon after. We are most pleased with the interest your Committee expressed in it. This will be a multilateral agreement which will enable countries with good intellectual property laws to fight counterfeiting and piracy. The ACTA Agreement will ensure general standards for implementing IP in the fight against global IP violations and will improve international relations and strengthen the practices for their effective enforcement. In the beginning of June the first formal round of negotiations was closed, where border customs clearance procedures were discussed.

With regard to Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs),Slovenia's Presidency did everything in its power to continue negotiations with the other five ACP regions. In March of this year Ljubljana hosted the 15th meeting of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, at which EPAs were discussed, among other topics. In addition, the Council Conclusions were adopted at the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, whereby the Council of the EU confirms the commitment to continue negotiations on concluding comprehensive EPAs. As you know, parallel to that, all procedures were underway to prepare a comprehensive EPA with the Caribbean region. We are happy that the signing is scheduled to take place in July.  

On the bilateral level, we are particularly gratified that negotiations for Ukraine's joining the WTO were successfully concluded in February 2008 and that Ukraine became a full member of the WTO on 16 May 2008. This made it possible to begin negotiations on establishing a free trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine during Slovenia's EU Presidency. 

During our presidency Stabilization and Association Agreements were also signed between the EU and Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.Negotiations with third countries, which were initiated in the past to establish other free trade agreements, continued.Progress in these negotiations varies from one state or region to the next and depends, among other things, on the will of third countries to constructively cooperate in these negotiations.

The closest to completion are negotiations with Korea, where significant progress was made in the last round of negotiations in May 2008, particularly with regard to non-tariff obstacles, certain aspects of the rules on origins and copyright protection.Looking at further negotiations on the technical and political level, conclusion of negotiations can be expected even before the end of 2008, as both sides are making efforts to close a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced agreement.

Negotiations with India are also developing well and in-depth discussions are expected to take place in the future, however the conclusion of the negotiations process cannot be predicted at this time. 

Negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are taking place in the context of Joint Committees, where all areas were discussed in April, with the exception of public procurement and competition.The EU is making efforts to increase the ambitions of the ASEAN and expedite the process.

Slovenia's presidency continued negotiations to establish a Euro-Mediterranean Free-Trade Area before the end of 2010; and negotiations with the Andean Community and Central America.Although negotiations are highly complex, considering the political and economic circumstances in the broader region, we can see progress has been made in numerous areas of trade which are subject of these negotiations.

Unfortunately, no progress has been made in the negotiations to conclude an association agreement with Mercosur, although a strong political will was noted to continue negotiations at the mini-Summit EU-Mercosur which took place alongside the EU-LAC Summit in May 2008.

In addition to Ukraine's joining the WTO, as mentioned before, I would also like to point out that during Slovenia's Presidency the EU and Montenegro signed a bilateral agreement on Montenegro's accession to the WTO in April of this year. This makes the EU the first WTO member to have successfully completed bilateral negotiations with Montenegro for its joining the WTO.

Progress has also been made in the case of Russia,where negotiations are intensifying with the desire and aim of concluding them as soon as possible.Russia's accession to the WTO will be followed by negotiations to enter a comprehensive free trade agreement, which will increase the liberalisation of economic relations. I am happy to announce that at the EU-Russia Summit, which is to take place on 26 and 27 June 2008 in Hanty-Mansijsk, will mark the start of negotiations to establish a new partnership and cooperation agreement between the EU and the RF.

Allow me to continue with other important achievements and subjects in connection with trade policy during our Presidency:

One great achievement in the context of trade and development is the 12th UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XII). The UNCTAD XII ministerial conference, which was attended by the European Parliament's delegation, was concluded with the unanimous passing of two documents: The Accra Declaration and the Accra Agreement. The latter is an action statement, which includes a broader political analysis and political responses, and lays down the guidelines for the activities of UNCTAD over the next four-year period. The Accra Agreement is without a doubt a balanced document, which will allow the EU to create a more positive agenda within UNCTAD.

I would like to emphasise the excellent inter-institutional cooperation which prevailed between the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council during our negotiations in Accra.

We are proud to be able to say that the Slovenian Presidency fulfilled most of the EU's expectations in negotiations with partners to agree on the content of these texts; the Conference's success will finally depend on implementation of the commitments undertaken. It will be at this stage that the commitments of the interested parties to reform and strengthen the organisation will be put to the test, and this also includes the EU.

The EU and USA adopted a Joint Declaration and Progress Report at the 2nd Transatlantic Economic Council on 13 May 2008, presented at the EU-USA Summit. Both sides stressed their commitment to achieve common goals in the area of economic integration. Steps forward have been taken in many priority areas.

China is a challenge and an opportunity for good economic relations, and trade can make a significant contribution to the strengthening of the strategic partnership between the EU and China. In light of the numerous open questions in economic relations between the EU and China, we welcome the newly established high-level economic and trade discussions which took place in Beijing in April. The high-level economic and trade discussions are thus a new joint body which aims to increase and deepen trade and economic cooperation between the EU and China. During the time of Slovenia's Presidency, negotiations continued (the second round of negotiations) to revise the trade part of the partnership and cooperation agreement with China, which will help achieve better economic relations.

I would also like to point out another event that took place during Slovenia's Presidency, namely the 11th Senior Officials' Meeting on Trade and Investment (SOMTI) which was held in Slovenia as part of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).  The meetings were attended by representatives of the ASEM states (20 EU Member States and 13 Asian states) and the European Commission. The purpose of the meeting was the informal exchange of views and positions regarding economic cooperation between the regions and preparations for the meeting of the ASEM economy ministers, which is scheduled for July this year.

I would like to conclude by saying that many other matters were put on the agenda during our presidency, which we did not mention individually in our presentation between your January Committee.

So the Principles and Guidelines to promote sustainable lending practices in the area of export loans to low-income countries were confirmed on EU level and adopted on OECD level during the time of Slovenia's Presidency. In the context of expansion and in the context of intense cooperation with non-OECD states a strategy was developed to include and collaborate with non-members for two working parties competent for the export credit area. Other achievements of note include the fact that most outstanding issues regarding the implementation of the new Sector Understanding for Civil Aircraft, which was adopted and implemented in July last year, were solved. This will help increase transparency of the rules for financing and insuring export loans in the sale of civil aircraft.

Slovenia's presidency made important steps forward in the area of dual-use goods in terms of negotiating the proposal of the Regulation setting up a Community regime for the control of exports of dual-use items and technology.

Numerous other subjects were discussed during Slovenia's presidency.Among other things I would like to point out the discussion on the subject of the trade aspects of energy which the presidency elevated to a high political level at the spring informal meeting of ministers for trade, and the discussion on the subject of trade and climate change, an increasing concern.Both these subjects will undoubtedly continue to be discussed in the future, as well. 

Finally, I would like to point out that we have put all our efforts into successfully continuing the trade agenda. We hope that we have met expectations and contributed our share to progress in the areas of trade, EU competitiveness and global challenges. I wish our French colleagues, who begin their presidency next week, a great deal of success, and I want to offer my sincerest thanks again for your cooperation.

Thank you for your attention. I would now be pleased to take your questions.


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Date: 24.06.2008