Ceisteanna — Questions. Priority Questions. - EU-North American Relations.

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps, if any, Ireland will take as part of a process of strengthening EU-North American relations. [22192/98]

We view the European Union's relations with Canada and the United States as extremely important. For that reason, successive Governments have made the strengthening of these relationships a priority during Irish Presidencies of the EU. Ireland will continue to work to strengthen these relationships by our participation in political dialogue with the US and Canada and in the EU bodies charged with the conduct of the relationships.

EU-US political and economic relations are conducted within the framework of the Joint Action Plan and the New Transatlantic Agenda, adopted at the EU-US Summit in Madrid on 3 December 1995. The Joint Action Plan provides a framework for co-operation between the two sides in promoting peace and stability, democracy and development; responding to global challenges; contributing to the expansion of world trade and closer economic relations and building bridges across the Atlantic.

Political dialogue between the European Union and the United States takes the form of biannual meetings at Foreign Minister level. These meetings are supplemented by regular meetings of officials. An EU-US senior level group, comprising representatives of the Presidency, the European Commission and the US, monitors and reports to EU-US summit meetings, held every six months, on the priorities for cooperation identified in the Joint Action Plan. The most recent summit took place in London on 18 May 1998. The New Transatlantic Agenda is a political statement which aims to heighten public awareness of the continuing importance of the transatlantic relationship for international peace and prosperity.

The London Summit decided to establish a Transatlantic Economic Partnership, TEP. This important initiative aims to accelerate economic growth, mainly by reducing regulatory and other non-tariff barriers to trade in goods and services between the EU and US. The partnership stipulates that the US and EU should work together to achieve substantial further trade liberalisation on a multilateral basis within the context of the World Trade Organisation negotiations. The partnership covers the important areas of manufactured products, agriculture, services, industrial customs duties, global electronic trade, intellectual property rights, investments, public procurement and competition.

Negotiations between the Office of the US Trade Representative, USTR, and the EU Commission have continued since May on the elaboration of a TEP Joint Action Plan. Ireland is playing an active and constructive role in the co-ordination of the European position in these negotiations. I hope agreement can be achieved on this latest package of proposals at an early meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers Council. The way would then be clear for adoption of the action plan at the EU-US Summit in Washington on 15 December next. Elements of the TEP will then be implemented at intervals during 1999 and beyond.

The framework for EU-Canada relations is provided by the Joint Declaration and Action Plan, signed in Ottawa on 17 December 1996. This covers trade relations, including the objective of further reducing or eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers and the resolution of outstanding bilateral trade disputes; foreign policy and security issues; transnational issues — environment, health, migration, terrorism, organised crime and misuse of the information highway; and the fostering of education, technology, business and science links. The action plan also provides for closer co-ordination between the EU and Canada in the OSCE.

Preparations for the next EU-Canada Summit, to be held in Ottawa on 14 December, are in hand. Ireland is fully engaged in the preparatory discussions on the EU side and is favourably disposed towards any further measures which would enhance the increasing trade and political links between the EU and Canada. I am satisfied the actions and initiatives I have outlined demonstrate clearly that substantial progress continues to be made in strengthening the vital relationships that exist between the EU and North America.

With the enlargement of the EU, Ireland's peripheral position will become even more so. However, there is dialogue between the EU and Canada and America. As interregional development and co-operation takes place, Ireland will be centre stage. Has the Minister had the opportunity to read the document I sent him outlining a proposal for the creation of a transatlantic foundation for EU-North American co-operation which would be located here, given our credentials and the experience we have of Canadian and US relations and as an English speaking EU state. Does the Minister see any merit in this proposal and does he intend to advance it?

I am grateful to the Deputy for sending me the document and I acknowledged its receipt. I have studied the proposal and there is a great deal of merit in it. The location of such a foundation in Ireland would be advantageous. I have to be frank with the Deputy in saying I have not pursued the matter any further. Arising from this exchange, I will warm up my approach to it. Perhaps the Deputy will put down a question in due course and I will be able to give him a more definitive answer.