Community trade policy is decided according to the provisions of Article 133 of the EC Treaty. The European Commission negotiates on behalf of the member states in consultation with a special trade policy committee provided for under the treaty — the so-called Article 133 committee — which comprises trade officials representative of all EU member states. A key element of the duties performed by the committee includes the provision of advice to the European Commission, as negotiator, in the conduct of trade negotiations from the opening through to the conclusion of EU multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements.
Committee members discuss the full range of trade policy issues impacting on the Union, from strategic issues including the launch of WTO multilateral trade rounds, trade aspects of wider EU concern, including regional and bilateral trade agreements between the Union and non-EU states, to specific issues which impact on the export of products and services. This ensures a consistent policy approach in the formulation and evolution of the common commercial policy — CCP — of the Union.
Decisions on the mandate to open trade negotiations, directives for negotiation to guide the Commission as lead EU negotiator, and the decision ultimately on whether to adopt an accord rests solely with the Council of Ministers. In these cases the European Commission submits proposals to the European Council for approval. It is the Council of Ministers alone, as decision-makers, which has ultimate responsibility for approval of proposals to open, conduct and finalise EU trade agreements in the context of the development of the CCP.
Regular and substantive discussions with stakeholders are a feature of the process of consultation on key policy issues and negotiating positions considered at 133 committee meetings. In addition to consultation at the official level, across Departments, ongoing consultations are undertaken with other stakeholders including civil society. Meetings and consultations are convened with the business community, the farming community and development NGOs at the request of these interested parties. Thus, for example, the network of NGOs under the trade matters umbrella meets regularly, at its request, with myself and with officials from relevant Departments, including the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Foreign Affairs, and Agriculture and Food.
Since assuming the Presidency of the European Union, the agendas of the meetings of the Article 133 committee are published in advance, in the interests of greater transparency, on the Irish EU Presidency website, www.eu2004.ie.
I regard the current arrangements as being appropriate and, in the context of regular and ongoing consultations with key stakeholders, as providing a substantial degree of transparency in the operation of the work of the 133 committee.