On the 25th July 2018, European Commission President Juncker and President Trump met in Washington to launch a new phase in the close friendship and strong trade relations between the United States and the European Union. They agreed a Joint EU-US Statement to -
- work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies (on non-auto industrial goods) and to work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans,
- strengthen strategic energy cooperation to potentially increase US imports of (LNG) to diversify the EU’s energy supply,
- launch a close dialogue on standards to ease trade barriers, reduce bureaucratic obstacles, and reduce costs, and
- work closely together with like-minded partners to reform the WTO and to address unfair trading practices, including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, distortions created by state owned enterprises, and overcapacity.
An EU-US Executive Working Group (EWG), was established on foot of the July joint statement, co-chaired by EU Trade Commissioner Cecelia Malmström and the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, as the vehicle for carrying forward this joint agenda. Following several meetings to date, the EWG is next scheduled to meet in early May 2019.
On 18th January 2019 the EU Commission brought forward Proposals for Negotiating Directives - or mandates - for sector specific trade talks with the United States: one on conformity assessment, (making it easier for companies to prove their products meet technical requirements on both sides of the Atlantic) and one on the elimination of tariffs for industrial goods (excluding agricultural products). These Proposals were discussed by Member States in the EU Trade Policy Committee on a number of occasions over the period, and, further to the March European Council conclusions instructing that ‘necessary steps towards rapid implementation of all elements of the US-EU Joint Statement of 25 July 2018’ be proceeded with, EU Ambassadors, at their meeting of 11th April 2019, agreed to forward the Negotiating Directives to Council for approval. In that regard, on 15th April 2019 the EU Council, by qualified majority, approved the two Negotiating Directives. The approval of the Negotiating Directives is a key step on the road to a possible future trade agreement between the EU and US.
The Negotiating Directives make it clear that agriculture is specifically excluded from these negotiations; something I had sought specific assurances on from EU Trade Commissioner Malmström in Council last year.
I believe a future trade agreement between the EU and US that is targeted specifically at the sectors of conformity assessment and the removal of tariffs on industrial goods, coupled with the lifting of current US tariffs on steel and aluminium products, would be a positive development for our economy and for jobs. A recent economic analysis released by the EU Commission found that such a targeted EU-US agreement would increase EU exports to the US by 8% and US exports to the EU by 9% by 2033. In this context, where Ireland and the US have a bilateral trading relationship worth more than €100 billion per annum, the potential gains for Ireland, and resultant employment, from an EU-US trade agreement would be very positive.
It will now be a matter for the EWG to determine the timing of the commencement of these EU-US trade negotiations.