Tal av handelsminister Ewa Björling i Europaparlamentets utskott för internationell handel (INTA)



Chair, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished Members of Parliament. It is a great pleasure to come back here to the Committee to report on trade policy developments during the Swedish Presidency.

Acknowledgement of INTA's new role
Let me start by congratulating the Committee as a whole, and you all as Members, on your new role following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

The fact that the Committee on International Trade will now play an even more prominent role in trade policy making is important and most welcome. The Committee can, together with the Commission and the Council, actively contribute to strengthening the EU's role in the global trading system, and in developing our trade relations. Your experience, and the added value that you will provide in this policy field, will be very useful.

Immediate challenges - the current recession
It is evident why the Swedish Presidency as a whole has focused on the economic crisis and its effects on the EU.

We find ourselves in a global recession that has proved to be the deepest, longest and most broad-based downturn of our generation. Now, at last, economic forecasts show that the world economy is gradually beginning to recover.
And the worst of the crisis may well be behind us. However, the recovery is still fragile, and a significant concern is the deterioration of the situation on the labour market.

Forecasts suggest a number of risks, including 'jobless' recovery, persistently high unemployment, and a shrinking workforce. A situation that typically leads to increased pressure for protectionism and isolation. Hence, responsible action from the world's largest trading partners is still called for.

Last week I participated in the WTO ministerial conference in Geneva. There I was happy to see that there seems to be consensus on the WTO's important role in contributing to a swift economic recovery, growth and open trade. The role of the WTO in monitoring protectionist measures during the crisis has been particularly useful in generating peer pressure and transparency - important factors in keeping protectionism at bay.

For me, as Minister for Trade, my first priority during this period has been to do everything in my power to ensure that the EU contributed in keeping markets open and protectionism at bay. And I am pleased to say that during this difficult period, the EU has shown leadership and constructiveness in trade negotiations, and resisted the temptation to resort to protectionist measures.
We have every reason to be proud of having set this good example.

We have taken an important step forward in establishing an external dimension for the post-2010 Lisbon Agenda. I am particularly satisfied that the Council has expressed its commitment to the EU's own openness, and to the promotion of external trade in such an agenda, as it did in the Competitiveness Council's conclusions of December 4.

While doing this, we have kept a very close eye on our trading partners.

Within the framework of the Market Access Strategy, the Member States, the Commission, the Business community and our Market Access Teams in third countries, are continuously monitoring the business environment for our exporters in key markets, to make sure that these partners take their responsibility and keep their markets open.

The Doha Round
At the global level, an ambitious and balanced conclusion of the DDA continues to be the best long-term insurance against protectionism. This is why the DDA has been, and must remain, a top priority on the EU's trade policy agenda. A multilateral deal would offer substantial economic and systemic gains, far beyond what is possible through bilateral negotiations. It is therefore our job to keep up the political pressure, and inject momentum into the negotiating process; this includes continuing to encourage key trading partners to engage fully in the DDA. We must also make sure that what is on the table remains on the table.

During the autumn, we have taken important steps together with the Commission to steer the DDA process in the right direction. The declaration from the G20 in Pittsburgh was an important milestone, and our aim must now be to conclude the round by the end of 2010. If we achieve this, we will get more than any trade deal in history has ever delivered.

Bilateral relations
As you know, bilateral relations have been high on my agenda during the Presidency. Concluding the negotiations with the Republic of Korea is undeniably one of the greatest trade policy achievements for the EU in a very long time. This FTA has great economic potential, with substantial gains for exporters and importers through significant dismantling of tariffs and other burdensome barriers to trade.

Further development and implementation of the Eastern Partnership has also been a priority for the Swedish Presidency. Promoting stability, good governance and economic development in this region is of strategic importance for the EU.

Important progress has been made during the autumn. Negotiating directives are now under discussion for new association agreements with Armenia and Georgia, with the objective of negotiating deep and comprehensive FTAs once the partners are ready for it. Ukraine is a key partner in our close neighbourhood, not the least for the Union's energy security.

Some progress has been made in the ongoing bilateral negotiations, but there is still work to be done.

Russia is a key trading partner for the EU, but remains the world's largest economy outside the WTO. The EU is a firm supporter of an early Russian accession to the WTO, provided that key outstanding trade issues are solved.

We have made useful progress in our negotiations for a FTA with India, which are back on track following a brief pause at the beginning of the year. The EU-India Summit gave a clear political push to bring the negotiations forward.

Looking at Southeast Asia, I hope that we can soon proceed with bilateral negotiations with relevant countries of ASEAN, and pave the way for a future region-to-region agreement. Such negotiations will meet the strategic objective of strengthening EU competitiveness through increased market access in South East Asia.

The FTA negotiations with Peru and Colombia have also made good progress, and the EU should be prepared to do its part to foster the continued process towards free trade agreements with the whole Andean region.

The association agreement negotiations with Central America are well under way, but the unfortunate developments in Honduras have forced us to postpone negotiations. The Honduras situation needs to be resolved before the EU can resume the push for a swift conclusion of the agreement.

Substantial progress has already been noted in our FTA negotiations with Canada. One successful round has been completed, and the prospects are promising.

I am also pleased to note the formal signing of EPA interim agreements with Papua New Guinea, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and the Seychelles.

Furthermore, this autumn, we organised the first Transatlantic Economic Council with the new US administration. At the TEC meeting we discussed ways to improve co-operation in upstream regulation - in particular in new areas such as labelling, energy efficiency and nanotechnology - in order to develop compatible approaches to regulation. It was also agreed at the meeting that we would establish a new EU-US innovation dialogue to accelerate our efforts to spur growth, productivity and entrepreneurial activity.

The 8th Euromed Trade Ministerial Conference was held here in Brussels yesterday. Among other things, the ministers endorsed the 'Euromed Trade Roadmap beyond 2010', which identifies concrete actions towards achieving the overall objective of establishing a large Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area.

In this context, it is with great satisfaction that I note the cutting of red tape in the EUROMED area. The initialling of the convention on Pan Euro-Mediterranean rules on origin will substantially reduce business operators' transaction costs.

This is an important step in reducing bureaucracy, and I hope to see more cutting of red tape in the years to come.

Fewer bureaucratic procedures reduce the risk of corruption. And in the fight against corruption, the most important global instrument at our disposal is the United Nations Convention against Corruption. I am pleased to note that the Conference of States Parties to the Convention - at its meeting in Doha, Qatar, in November - decided to establish a peer review mechanism for review of implementation.

This is a unique tool from a UN perspective, enabling countries to assist one another in the effective implementation of the Convention. It would not have come into being without persistent and continuous efforts by the European Union.

Further important progress also includes the final settlement of longstanding disputes - the EU-US hormones dispute, as well as the settlement between the EU and Brazil on outstanding issues due to the EU enlargement.

We have had useful summits with South Africa, Brazil, the US, India, Russia, China and Ukraine.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
I would also like to highlight another issue of great importance, namely Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR. A successful conference on this topic was held in Stockholm in November, focusing on the role of governments with regard to business and human rights within the UN framework 'Protect, Respect, Remedy'.

The outcome of the conference was summarised in a statement, which I delivered together with the incoming Spanish Presidency at the end of the meeting. The baton has now been passed on to Spain, who will take this issue forward. I look forward to further EU engagement to promote the framework and put it into practice.

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)
As regards the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, there have been two rounds of negotiations during the Swedish Presidency. The discussions have focused on international co-operation, enforcement practices, institutional issues, criminal sanctions, enforcement in the digital environment and transparency of the negotiations. We look forward to seeing further progress during the Spanish Presidency, and hopefully a conclusion of the negotiations in 2010.

Policy Coherence for Development
Trade policy can, and should, support development. Coherence between trade and development policies is essential if the EU is to be a credible and effective partner to developing countries.

Council conclusions on Policy Coherence for Development were adopted in November.

The conclusions raise a number of priority issues concerning trade and development, such as improved and effective access for developing countries' exports to the EU, new emerging issues of importance for sustainable development and ways of making better use of intellectual property rights in supporting innovation, investment and development.

I believe that this will help us to focus our future work on the most pressing issues in the nexus between trade and development, keeping in mind that the development dimension is something that needs to be reflected in all areas of trade policy.

Trade policy and climate change
Trade policy and climate change is another important example of policy coherence. Trade can make a positive contribution to overall efforts to combat climate change and support the move towards a low-carbon economy.

Efforts have been made to advance talks on the liberalisation of trade in environmental goods and services in the WTO.

We have also worked with other countries to launch an initiative on the liberalisation of trade in climate-friendly technologies, as a core element of a broader agreement among WTO members on environmental goods and services. In view of the climate negotiations, we stress the importance of strong protection and enforcement of IPR in order to support innovation and investment in climate technologies. In November, we also arranged a successful conference in Stockholm on trade, climate change and standardisation from a development perspective, with wide-ranging participation from developing countries.

I am convinced that climate change will be a recurring topic on the trade policy agenda over the coming years.

Future of the global trading system
Finally, I have expressed the importance of initiating a discussion on the future of the global trading system. The World Trade Organisation needs to respond to the challenge of adapting the international trading system to the fundamental transformation that has taken place in the global economy in recent years.

The environment in which companies operate has fundamentally changed. Trade today is only to a limited extent an activity between two countries. Instead, it is a matter of interaction between or within corporations. Most economic actors today are part of, and depend on, global production and supply chains. We need to ensure that the international trading system remains relevant in this new economic environment.

As a contribution, we held a fruitful discussion on this topic at the EU trade ministers' informal dinner in September.

The 7th WTO Ministerial Conference also proved to be a useful opportunity to discuss the functioning of the multilateral trading system as a whole. It is now evident that more and more people recognise the need for new thinking and policymaking. I hope that we, together, can continue to move this debate forward.

My belief is that it is only through an open, proactive, coherent and sustainable trade policy that we will achieve growth and prosperity to the benefit of us all. I therefore look forward to continuing working with the Parliament on these important issues.

On that note, I wish to thank you all for listening, and now I look forward to hearing your views, and to respond to any questions or comments you may have.

Thank you!