On 4 and 5 October 2018, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, took part in the informal meeting of the European Union (EU) Foreign Affairs Council on matters of the Common Trade Policy in Innsbruck, Austria. The meeting addressed pending issues in international trade, as well as the EU’s most important trade negotiations and progress made therein.
Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica underlined that “our interests lie in close long-term transatlantic relationship. Therefore, the EU should make every effort to deescalate the current situation and avoid any possible further trade frictions with the United States of America. Latvia supports the joint exploration process launched on the possible scope of trade talks between the EU and the US. A specially established Executive Working Group is to look into the possible areas of mutual interest, for instance, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.”
Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica said that transparency needs to be observed in that process. It should be ensured that Member States and respective stakeholders are sufficiently involved in the negotiation process, thereby achieving a balanced result acceptable for all the parties involved.
In a discussion on the EU’s trade relationship with the US, Member States were of the opinion that the current US trade policy still was protectionism-oriented. The US made a decision earlier this year to raise tariffs on steel and aluminium imports on the grounds of national security. Actions of that kind drove the EU to respond with rebalancing measures (import duties on goods originating from the US) and market protection measures (import quotas) on all steel imported from the US. The tension in transatlantic relations was reduced by the meeting between the EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and the US President Donald Trump on 25 July 2018.
At the meeting, Commissioner Cecilia Malmström informed the participants about her regular contacts with the US and results to be achieved in the short and medium term.
In a discussion on the modernisation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica expressed support for efforts towards the strengthening of the multilateral trade system. The Parliamentary Secretary noted that the WTO needed deep reforms, not just a facelift; consequently, it was in the EU’s interests to engage constructively in the process together with other active WTO members. In the short term, she said, we have to ensure functionality of the multilateral trading system; therefore, we should focus on the Dispute Settlement Body and the Appellate Body as our immediate priorities.
In relation to the state of play in EU trade policy, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström outlined progress achieved in the EU’s trade talks with Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Indonesia, Mexico and the members of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
The Parliamentary Secretary expressed support for the work done by the European Commission in EU trade negotiations and noted that promotion of regional and bilateral trade relations by modernising agreements or entering into new free trade talks was important for the EU's economic growth. “Latvia is in favour of pursuing an ambitious EU trade policy; with this in mind, we support the Commission’s efforts of providing new markets and wider export opportunities for EU companies,” said the Parliamentary Secretary. She also underlined the importance of the issue for the economy of Latvia, given that exports of goods and services constitute almost 60% of Latvia’s GDP.
Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica also joined the opinion voiced by Member States that in trade talks, an agreement should be reached on an improved market access for goods, services and public procurement, as well as reducing non-tariff barriers and removing restrictions affecting foreign investors. The Parliamentary Secretary also noted that those agreements, in particular, should offer new opportunities and better conditions to small and medium-sized companies and start-ups, as well as those operating in the digital economy and IT sectors.
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