This week’s top focus in EU trade policy will be Asia.
Brussels is hosting the Asia Europe Meeting on Thursday and Friday. ASEM has a very broad membership and lose structure and is mostly seen as a meeting, mingling and talking shop. But in the era of Trump the gathering will have particular significance for Europeans and Asians.
On the side of ASEM meetings, the EU and Singapore will formally sign their bilateral free trade and investment protection agreements. To Singaporeans, this will end four years of agonised waiting for a deal that was used as a proxy to settle turf wars between the EU and member states over the distribution of powers on trade policy. A landmark ECJ ruling now bears the name of the Singapore FTA. After its signature, the deal will be sent to member states and parliament for ratification.
The EU and Korea will hold a bilateral summit on Friday. Trade will feature high on the agenda of that meeting. This could herald the start of fresh talks to update an 2011 bilateral FTA. “The EU and South-Korea are also expected to express their joint commitment to fight protectionism and to support the multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core, both sides fully engaged behind the reform of the institution”, the Council announces. Other items on the agenda include data flows (the EU is preparing to grant Korea an equivalence decision on its data protection framework), fisheries and aviation.
The ASEM summit will be followed by an EU-ASEAN leaders’ meeting. We’ll find out whether there’s progress on the idea of a region-to-region free trade agreement. There is a lot to talk about: the EU’s recent decision to lift its trade preferences for Cambodia and Myanmar will probably raise hackles.
But the college of commissioners is set to approve the EU Vietnam FTA (and separate investment agreement) this week, paving the way for the deal’s ratification in the coming months. On Friday, the EU and Vietnam are expected to sign a sustainable forestry trade agreement.
This week will also be dedicated to a 6th round of free trade agreement negotiations with Indonesia. The two sides have exchanged tariff offers and are preparing to table offers on services and exchange lists of geographical indications.
British people might be disappointed to see that with all that focus on Asia, the European Council meeting Article 50 on Wednesday won’t be the meeting Europeans get most excited about.
There was noise over the week-end that the negotiators had agreed a ‘technical deal’, a notion that was slapped down by the chief negotiators Michel Barnier and Dominic Raab on Sunday evening. Dominic Raab is still expected to come to Brussels. What people say is that it’s still Northern Ireland and the prospect of a DUP (Unionist party in Northern Ireland) cum Tory party revolt that holds back the UK government.
Wednesday’s Article 5o Council should have been the decisive meeting that paves the way for a withdrawal deal and a political declaration on future relations between the EU and Britain. Instead the issue is whether member states will decide to hold a special new summit in November if they believe sufficient progress was made nonetheless in the talks.
Before the Asia week goes into full gear trade commissioner Malmström will do some schmoozing in Berlin on Monday. She’ll meet Germany’s economics minister Peter Altmaier. Guess what they will be talking about?
Hint: there will be a meeting between Malmström and Wilbur Ross, the United States’ commerce secretary the next day, Tuesday, in Brussels. Ross is the man who helps decide on steel and aluminium as well as auto tariffs.
That same day Cecilia Malmström will also meet Michele Geraci, Undersecretary of State for Economic Development of Italy. A critical country on issues such as CETA and negotiations with the United States.
On Wednesday, some expect a showdown between members of the Government Procurement Agreement and the United Kingdom over the latter’s accession bid to the GPA. The US have already signalled they are not happy with London’s offer. On Thursday there will be a General Council meeting in Geneva. Expect a good show over disagreements on the future of the WTO.
On Wednesday, the WTO’s director general Roberto Azevedo will be in London to speak at a dinner hosted by the Lord Mayor of London (the City) with Secretary of State for Trade Liam Fox.