As the Deputy will be aware, Trade Policy is a competence of the European Commission under the EU Treaties and defined as the Common Commercial Policy (CCP). The Lisbon Treaty extended this competence to cover foreign direct investment, as well as making the European Parliament a co-legislator alongside the Council on trade matters. Under this architecture the European Commission acts as lead negotiator on behalf of all EU countries regarding trade agreements with non-EU countries. Member States (in Council) approve negotiating directives (or mandates) before negotiations begin, are consulted as the negotiations proceed and have final approval at Council as has the European Parliament. In addition, the EU Commission represents Ireland and other EU Member States at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), taking into account the needs of individual Member States and the collective good of the Union.
The current international trade environment has seen a rise of protectionism, which is an unwelcome development for Ireland, given our open and globalised economy and has the potential to harm market sentiment and disrupt global supply chains should the situation escalate.
Ireland and the EU are strong supporters of multilateral approaches to solving a range of global challenges. In that context, we see the WTO as the forum by which the international community can successfully promote economic development and free trade in support of good jobs for our people. Importantly, it provides a bulwark against damaging trade disputes and remains as relevant today as it was at its establishment in 1995, albeit reforms to meet the challenges of the 21st Century are required.
Ireland is strongly supportive of the EU Commission’s ongoing work on WTO reform, including its previous proposals which I believe to be both practical and sensible in their aim to promote engagement by partners, especially the US, to drive the reform process forward.
Another key support for dependable rules-based trade is the EU’s suite of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), which has evolved over time, from the ‘First Generation’ FTAs dating back to the 1970s which focused on tariffs for goods, to the current ‘New Generation’ of FTAs which go beyond the reduction or elimination of conventional tariff barriers to include; non-tariff and regulatory barriers, services, investment, recognition of professional qualifications, intellectual property rights, access to public procurement, regulatory cooperation, sustainable development, labour and environment. These help to open new markets, break down barriers and provide new opportunities for Irish based firms.
One of the most important aspects of the EU's trade policy is that - alongside protecting European businesses and consumers - it is promoting the EU's principles and values. Furthermore, each Agreement includes arrangements for joint committee oversight which promotes dialogue as a means of settling any potential trade dispute or differences in interpretation, that may arise under the individual Agreements.
The benefits of the establishment of comprehensive EU Free Trade Agreements with third countries must not only be counted in terms of the economic benefits, but also the establishment of strong lines of communication and areas of common interest with other economies. These ties encourage both the EU and its trade partners to adopt a unified, diplomatic approach to any respective areas of concern that may arise within a mutually respectful environment, as valued, respected and equal trade partners.