President. – The next item is the report by Mr Zalba Bidegain, on behalf of the Committee on International Trade, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on implementing the bilateral safeguard clause of the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement (COM(2010)0049 - C7-0025/2010 - 2010/0032(COD)).
Pablo Zalba Bidegain, rapporteur. – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, President of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, the adoption of the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea will open up opportunities for both European and Korean industry. However, in order to prevent any negative effects on European industry, it is essential to have an effective safeguard clause.
That is what my colleagues and I have been working on over the past few months in the Committee on International Trade, which is why it is important for Parliament as a whole to strongly support the whole package of amendments.
The report was adopted by 27 votes in favour and one abstention in June. Under this clause, it will be possible to apply safeguard measures if the reductions to the customs duties on products imported from South Korea threaten to cause serious damage to European industry.
As you know, under the new powers given to Parliament following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the adoption of this regulation is following the ordinary legislative procedure. Unfortunately, it was not possible to hold a trialogue with a mandate from the Council before the summer recess.
The first official trialogue was held on 30 August, and both the shadow rapporteurs and I were able to hear the Council’s reaction to our amendments. That meeting enabled us to move forward on many points and define the final text of some paragraphs, and our feeling following the meeting is that we believe the Council genuinely wants to reach an agreement on the most controversial points and is working hard to do so. This is, of course, something that we view very positively.
However, at the same time, we do not think there has been time to sufficiently clarify the Council’s position on the points on which it has a different view to that adopted in the Committee on International Trade.
All the political groups therefore unanimously decided that the time had come for Parliament to take a position in plenary on the amendments adopted in the Committee on International Trade in July, which are vital in order for the safeguard clause to be applicable and effective.
At the same time, a unanimous decision was taken not to close the door on a possible agreement at first reading, which we firmly believe will be possible when the Council clarifies its position.
We will therefore vote tomorrow only on the amendments tabled by the Committee on International Trade and, in accordance with Rule 55, we will defer the vote on the legislative report to the second part-session in October, when we hope to reach a positive conclusion to the legislative procedure.
We believe that the report incorporates a whole series of improvements such as creating an on-line platform to speed up the processes; the possibility of the industry being able to initiate an investigation process; the Commission being obliged to produce reports; and improvements in the monitoring and surveillance of Korean imports. These are points on which we have already reached an agreement in principle with the Council.
I think this is a good result, but we still do not think it is enough. There are other, even more fundamental points that deserve the full attention of the negotiators and which all the political groups must defend here, as we did in the Committee on International Trade. I am essentially talking about four points.
Firstly, we need to mitigate the possible risk to the more vulnerable Member States by establishing a regional clause, region by region, to prevent some sensitive industries from being affected. We should not forget that the safeguard clause is essentially temporary and its objective is precisely to safeguard the most sensitive sectors of the economy so that they have sufficient time to adapt to the new situation.
Secondly, we need to clearly establish surveillance for the products affected by the duty drawback clause.
Thirdly, we need to defend Parliament’s role in the process of initiating investigations, and the final point is the decision-making process or comitology.
As well as mentioning the good will shown by the Belgian Presidency during the negotiations, finally, I want to mention the vital role that the Commission is playing and will continue to play in bringing the negotiations to a sound conclusion.
Karel De Gucht, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, the regulation implementing the bilateral safeguard clause in the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement is a very important piece of legislation, not only because, once adopted, it will provide the necessary protection for the EU industry if needed, but also because this is the first trade dossier on which the European Parliament is involved as colegislator. Therefore, I am pleased to see the commitment and responsibility with which Parliament is dealing with this particular file.
I appreciate the efforts that have been made by the European Parliament in preparing the amendments to the Commission proposal to very tight deadlines. I would also like to confirm that the Commission is fully committed to finding an agreement that will secure an effective safeguard mechanism which will address the potential concerns of some branches of EU industry.
I have been informed that the first informal trialogue meeting concerning the Korea safeguard regulation went well and that progress was achieved on a significant number of amendments, as the rapporteur has just mentioned. For instance, an agreement was reached on such important issues as granting EU industry the right to request initiation of a safeguard investigation, and the inclusion of internal rules on duty drawback in the safeguard regulation.
I am aware that the most difficult issues have not yet been discussed in detail in the informal trialogue. I hope that the next meetings between Parliament, the Council and the Commission, which I understand will be organised in the near future, will bring substantial progress and allow an agreement to be reached, even on the most difficult issues.
I would like to thank the honourable Members, and especially the members of the Committee on International Trade (INTA), for treating this file as a priority. I would also like to reiterate the Commission’s commitment to rigorous implementation of the whole FTA. This implies not only the safeguard mechanism, but also all other aspects of the FTA, notably including sustainable development provisions and disciplines relating to non-tariff barriers.
Finally, let me also use this opportunity to inform you about the latest developments concerning the adoption process of the EU-Korea FTA by the Council. As you might know, the Foreign Affairs Council scheduled for 10 September will, we hope, authorise the signing and provisional application of the FTA. Once this decision is taken, it will be possible to officially sign the agreement and transmit it to Parliament for the consent procedure.
The date of provisional application will be decided at a later stage by the Council. That decision will, most likely, be adopted once Parliament has given its consent to the FTA and an agreement on the safeguard regulation has been reached.
President. – Thank you, Commissioner, for presenting the views of the European Commission.
Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, what Parliament, the Council and the Commission have together achieved here in recent weeks and months is exemplary. I would particularly like to thank Mr Zalba for his work.
In the first foreign trade policy matter since the Treaty of Lisbon – in which we have a decisive role to play – the European Parliament is showing that we are capable of action. We had the first reading in Committee in July, and this evening it is time for the debate. If it were up to us in Parliament, we could vote on the safeguard clauses tomorrow. Unfortunately, however, the other institution – that is, the Council – has so far failed to make it possible for us to approve the agreement tomorrow. I would have appreciated it if the Council were present here today. I would also appreciate the Council demonstrating a little more flexibility and a little more speed in this matter.
I would like to say the following very clearly concerning the role of the European Parliament: the Commission, the Members and industry will, in future, have the right to initiate an investigation under the safeguard clause. We, the European Parliament, want to have that right too. I think I can speak for all the Members when I say that we will not waive this right. I urge the Commission and the Council to agree to this in the negotiations as quickly as possible.
My next point concerns duty drawback. The Commission proposes that this be included in the safeguard clauses. I urge the Council to stop blocking this and to accept this matter.
My third point concerns the matter of South Korea’s CO2 regulation, which also needs to be addressed. The Korean Government is planning to bring in a CO2 regulation in the automotive sector. We are all concerned that this regulation could be used to scale back to opening up of the Korean market to cars from Europe. I urge the Commission to speak to the Koreans about this in the strongest possible terms. This matter of the CO2 regulation is a litmus test. It would not be helpful if the first piece of new legislation adopted by the Koreans were to undermine the Free Trade Agreement.
With this in mind, I wish the rapporteur and all those involved much continued success. I would be very grateful if we could conclude this matter before the year is out.
Bernd Lange, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to add my thanks to the rapporteur for the good cooperation that has helped Parliament unanimously adopt an extremely fundamental position in Committee – which is very much to be welcomed – and which has once again made clear the significance of this safeguard regulation.
Together with the agreement with South Korea, this is the first agreement that we have negotiated following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, which gave Parliament a new role that it must play. Secondly, this Free Trade Agreement with South Korea and the safeguard regulation are also something of a blueprint for future agreements, and to this extent, we must tread particularly carefully here. These are two important reasons why we should not nonchalantly adopt diluted positions, but should really fight for prudent regulations to be adopted.
As you are aware, Commissioner, there are six points that we are particularly concerned about here. I would like to give a brief recap of what these are. Firstly, the duty drawback mechanism. If Korean manufacturers use parts from third countries when manufacturing their goods, they do not have to pay duty on these and can export them to Europe, while European manufacturers – even if they use the same parts – do not enjoy this exemption from duty. This therefore provides Korean manufacturers with a competitive advantage. This must be closely monitored to see whether it gives rise to distortion of the market. That cannot be achieved by means of a simple declaration; rather, it must be made legally binding by including it in the safeguard regulation as a basis for initiating investigations.
Secondly, there will also be regional variation. The sensitive sectors are not all represented equally strongly in all the Member States. Consequently, we must pay particular attention to how sensitive sectors in individual regions can be protected from targeted assaults. That is no simple task, because we are in an internal market – but a political solution must be found.
Thirdly, as this is the first agreement since the Treaty of Lisbon, Commissioner, it also involves a new balance between the Council and Parliament; and since we have also reached agreement with the Commission, it is only right that an equal role for Parliament and the Council is anchored in the agreement.
Fourthly, the implementation processes are, of course, your business – we have no desire to interfere with the operational implementation – but as Parliament we must ensure that Parliament’s rights are not brought into question in the comitology procedure. In particular, we need a right of withdrawal – this, too, must be ensured.
My fifth point is that many decades of experience with South Korea has shown us that in addition to tariff trade policy, non-tariff barriers to trade are constantly being constructed. We must therefore also have a clear mechanism for monitoring, reporting and initiating consultations should problems arise in the area of non-tariff barriers to trade.
My sixth point is that if we are serious about this new kind of trade agreement, then we must also involve and strengthen civil society. This means that fundamental ILO standards – such as standard 87, which grants workers the right to strike – need to be firmly rooted and implemented. In contrast, Article 314 of South Korea’s penal code states that ‘Interfering with the smooth running of the business’ is a criminal offence. We need to do something about this – civil society must be strengthened, fundamental ILO standards and fundamental environmental standards must be ensured, and civil society must also be involved in the monitoring of the agreement in the form of the Domestic Advisory Groups.
My final point, Commissioner, is that you said that provisional application will most likely occur once agreement has been reached. I would like to delete this ‘most likely’. Provisional application cannot take place until Parliament has reached a decision on this matter!
Michael Theurer, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as shadow rapporteur for the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, I would like to thank Commissioner De Gucht as well as the rapporteur, Mr Zalba, for their positive cooperation in connection with the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea and the safeguard clauses.
I would first like to emphasise that we Liberals and Democrats here in the European Parliament would like to see the agreement ratified and adopted as soon as possible, because we are in favour of free trade and because we see an agreement with South Korea as providing great opportunities for both the economy of the European Union and that of South Korea. Where the safeguard clauses are concerned, however, we need to take the concerns raised with us by European industry very seriously. We believe that the safeguard clauses represent an instrument that is capable of taking account of these concerns. We hope that the vote this week will send a signal that the political forces in Parliament are united and that these safeguard clauses will result in a well-functioning agreement being concluded here. We therefore call on the Council and the Commission to move towards us on the important outstanding issues.
Above all, we do not want to see the duty drawback system being abused. We cannot allow duty drawback to provide an open door via South Korea for cheap products, particularly cheap primary products from China and other Asian countries. Moreover, we want the South Koreans to dismantle their non-tariff barriers to trade – such as the CO2 regulations for cars – so that we do not have new barriers to trade coming in through the back door.
We want social and environmental standards to be upheld. Naturally, the matter of comitology must also be settled; that is, for the later application of the agreement. Here, we want to see a strong role for Parliament. We also want industry itself and the Member States to be able to initiate such investigations and monitoring in future.
One last point is a cause for concern: in the coming days, the Council will debate the provisional application of the agreement and possibly also vote on this. I must sound a note of warning here that, under the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament must give its consent. Provisional application would be contrary to the spirit of the Treaty of Lisbon. I therefore call on the Council not to approve provisional application of the agreement, but to wait for Parliament to make its decision. We have done everything in our power to make a timely decision possible, and we should demonstrate this again by showing a united front in the vote.
Helmut Scholz, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner De Gucht, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of my group, I would like to add our support to the Committee’s efforts to put the proposal for a regulation implementing the bilateral safeguard clauses of the Free Trade Agreement to the vote during this plenary week.
Transparency, openness – while clarifying the rights of the European Parliament to be a codetermining legislative EU institution in all trade agreements in the future – and thus taking seriously the opinions, concerns and worries of many of those involved and the actors affected as regards the yet to be ratified Free Trade Agreement; all this is directly affected by the safeguard regulation. Let me state that there are widely differing views on the content and, in particular, the text of the Free Trade Agreement – not just here in the European Parliament, but even more so among employees of enterprises as well as among the management of such enterprises, and that applies not only to large enterprises but even more so to small and medium-sized enterprises, on the side of both trading partners.
This is the first Free Trade Agreement of the 21st century between highly developed economies in a globalised economic world and it will enter into force during conditions of economic and financial crisis. The safeguard clause mechanism is therefore imbued with considerable significance that is likely to extend far beyond the specific aspects being presented here.
Legal certainty must be ensured as regards the implementation of and the opportunities to apply the safeguard measures provided for in the agreement if trade cooperation, global openness and joint progress as regards the economic and social development of the respective economies in the interests of the workers and citizens of the two trading partners are to be driven forward in a positive manner. Time planning and deadlines, regional safeguards, the furnishing of proof, monitoring measures – all these are indispensable, and as my fellow Members here have already mentioned, the European Parliament must have the same rights as the Council. The concerns relating to duty drawback that have been expressed by actors in civil society, trade unions and enterprises – concerns arising precisely out of their own experience – make it necessary to specifically lay down rules on origin.
I also support the approach that the clause must not only be effective, but must also be able to be asserted in practice. The clause must be an instrument that can be used in serious cases. I consider it a matter of urgency to emphasise today once again that this regulation must be carried and approved by the Council and by all 27 Member States; otherwise, the agreement cannot enter into force.
Anna Rosbach, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (DA) Mr President, this Free Trade Agreement is a ‘win-win’ situation for both Korea and the EU on both an economic and a social level, as well as from an environmental perspective. It is in the EU’s interest for this agreement to be adopted before Korea concludes a similar agreement with the United States. This needs to be done quickly, because President Obama announced recently in Toronto that the US intends to ratify a trade agreement with Korea next year. However, I am starting to have my doubts about whether this agreement is really so simple after all. In Korea, quite a large network of corruption at the highest level has just been uncovered, so we need to follow the developments with our most important trade partners very closely. A Free Trade Agreement underlines the fact that Korea belongs to this group.
We also need to find ways to ensure that independent experts in labour law or the EU itself can have direct access to workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), in other words, the trade areas in Kaesong where North Koreans are working for South Korean companies. Otherwise, we risk providing access to products manufactured using forced labour and without regard to human rights. If we cannot get access to these areas, we must refuse to allow KIC products to be included in the agreement. However, on the whole, it is a good thing that this agreement will bring about greater transparency and that charges can be brought against companies and they can be taken to court if they do not meet the requirements set. Similarly, the conditions of workers have now been disclosed and can therefore be discussed and inspected. If we succeed in this, it will be a definite step in the right direction.
Finally, I would like to make the point that it looks like the EU will benefit most from this agreement. That will hopefully result in more jobs and a boost to European growth.
President. – Ladies and gentlemen, as we can see, there is full agreement regarding the proposal, and we can congratulate ourselves that we all want it implemented as soon as possible and that it is very important to us.
Christofer Fjellner (PPE). – (SV) Mr President, I would like to begin by thanking Mr Zalba Bidegain, because I know that he has worked really hard on this and I think that he has achieved a very good result.
Tomorrow’s vote on the safeguard clauses for the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea will, in fact, be a historic one for two reasons. Firstly, it means that we will now begin discussions regarding the most comprehensive Free Trade Agreement that the EU has ever concluded. It is the most radical agreement and the one that will result in the highest profits of any that we have been involved in. There is nothing strange about that, of course. It is essentially due to the fact that South Korea is one of our most important trade partners, the world’s 11th largest economy, and one of the first OECD countries with which the EU is concluding a Free Trade Agreement.
It is also the first agreement in which we are using ‘Global Europe’, where the starting point is Europe’s competitiveness and what is economically important rather than simply what is politically important. It is evident that we have ambitions. For example, we are doing more in the area of agriculture here, as far as free trade is concerned, than we have ever done before. It will open up a lot of opportunities for our industry. It will, of course, open up opportunities for our South Korean friends’ industry too, but that is what free trade is all about. It is difficult, it has been difficult and it will be difficult in the future, but things that are important are often very difficult. That is the whole point of it.
Secondly, this is the first case in which the European Parliament has been involved and has the power of codecision. This has meant that we have had to show that we can take responsibility, and I think we have done that. We have to show that we can bring something to the table and strengthen the EU’s role rather than simply acting as a brake. I think we have achieved that. Not all of our demands will be listened to, of course, but the simple fact that we have made them means that the Commission will be forced to pay more heed to the issue of social conditions and non-tariff barriers to trade, for example.
I have one opinion that I would like to highlight in particular, because I do not agree with everything that we voted on in the committee. It concerns the question of regional safeguard measures. I have my doubts about this after the Treaty of Lisbon, and I think that it would be better if, instead, we introduced safeguard measures throughout the EU. With an internal market and free movement, there are considerable opportunities to circumvent this type of regional safeguard measure, and I do not believe that anyone here would want to stir up or call into question either free movement or the internal market. Overall, however, tomorrow’s vote is an important signal that we are entering a new period with regard to trade policy, and that is a good thing.
Gianluca Susta (S&D). – (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I think we must ask ourselves what we want as Europe, what we are calling for as Europe, and what commitments we intend to adopt in relation to this serious economic and financial crisis, the depression we have experienced around the world, and the difficult recovery that we are facing.
In my view, a Free Trade Agreement at a time of such great difficulty for multilateral relations, when the Doha negotiations are at a standstill, should fulfil at least two major requirements. On the one hand, it should establish a truly level international playing field between us and the other competitors in world trade and, on the other, it should show the world the direction in which Europe wants its economy and development to go.
This agreement is divorced from all that. It takes no account at all of the global context. It is on one side or on the other. It is simply a very cleverly produced Free Trade Agreement. It is an important conceptual document, and it would certainly be able to open up useful scenarios in a totally regulated world, a world in which reciprocity, common rules and common qualitative standards are the order of the day. The world is not like that, however. What we see, in fact, is that Europe’s manufacturing industry, on which it should build in order to create more development, more employment and more jobs, is being penalised, while once again, the financial services sector is being rewarded.
In its positive aspects, this agreement has hardly any effect on increasing GDP; in the best case scenario, it will raise it by 0.03%. I do not see the need for it. After President Obama’s cautious overtures, even the United States is putting the brakes on now under pressure from at least 100 congressmen from the majority party, who have described this kind of agreement – similar to the one we are about to sign – as ‘job killing’.
The ratification process in Korea is extremely slow and neither the ecological standards nor the social standards are guaranteed. Even so, we want to move towards ratification very fast.
We must ask for one thing, however. We asked for it before in the preliminary stages through the vote that we cast then. There can be no provisional implementation of this Free Trade Agreement unless the safeguard regulation is adopted, and in this Parliament, we have introduced some important amendments that will enable us to address the subsequent stages more effectively.
(The President cut off the speaker)
Niccolò Rinaldi (ALDE). – (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, we are a little like the Ryong, the dragons of Korean mythology, which are gentle, benevolent but highly determined dragons. We are also aware that we are the European institution that is directly elected by our citizens, and we therefore call for an effective safeguard clause.
Parliament is willing to conclude the agreement at first reading, but on condition that there are concrete proposals taking account of the interests of European workers and industries and especially of Parliament’s institutional prerogatives. We have six demands, which have already been put forward in part by other Members.
The first one is no provisional implementation before the safeguard regulation has been adopted and before Parliament has given the agreement its approval.
The second is a regional or, in any case, a flexible safeguard clause, because Europe is diverse and it is important for the agreement to be accepted and welcomed by its various stakeholders.
The third and even more important demand concerns Parliament’s role in the procedures: the right to call an investigation – we have, of course, asked to extend this right to industry – the right to be given full information, and access to the online platform.
The fourth concerns comitology in implementation of the regulation: the Council cannot have a greater role than Parliament. We insist on Parliament having a strong role, with a procedure – the advisory procedure – providing for a veto in cases where the Commission decides not to apply measures after an investigation.
Fifthly, with regard to customs duty drawback, customs duties must be included in the safeguard clauses and must be one of the factors in any investigation and monitoring.
Lastly, the sixth demand is that there needs to be monitoring of social and working conditions and environmental standards, and there needs to be a level playing field putting the Koreans and Europeans on an equal footing as regards CO2.
We are fully in favour of this Free Trade Agreement and of any Free Trade Agreement that is an instrument for stability and peace. Nobody, however, should be naive about its content, nor can the Council ignore Parliament’s role.
Maria Eleni Koppa (S&D). – (EL) Mr President, we are being called on today to approve an important legislative text relating to international trade, the implementation of which will have serious consequences for the European market. Given the current international economic crisis, whenever a Free Trade Agreement is executed, care must be taken, step by step, to ensure that there is no risk of causing serious losses to productive sectors in the Union.
The safeguard clause in the Free Trade Agreement with Korea is needed so that it can be incorporated into EU legislation, so that it has the force of legislation, and so that it can be activated without complications. At the same time, the European Commission needs to systematically monitor import and export statistics, so that it can intervene directly if imbalances arise. Also, compliance with specifications relating to working conditions and environmental standards needs to be carefully monitored in order to avoid creating unfair competition between the same or directly competing products as a result of failure to apply the above criteria to the letter.
Finally, I should like to highlight the fact that we endorse the application of the regional clause to safeguard the optimum operation of the internal market, as it allows measures to be taken in regions and countries with productive sectors which often have an important share of a core market. As the Free Trade Agreement with Korea is the first to open Europe up to such a large Asian market, we need to take particular care, because it will act as a precedent for other such agreements.
Marielle De Sarnez (ALDE). – (FR) Mr President, any Free Trade Agreement must be based on the principle of reciprocity or of mutual benefit, and, frankly, I doubt that this is the case with the agreement concerning South Korea.
I should like to quote a figure: 50% of our current trade with South Korea concerns the automobile sector; however, the European Union imports 450 000 South Korean cars but exports only 33 000 European cars. This is an extremely unbalanced trade relationship, to say the least, and it is against a backdrop of an exceptionally serious crisis.
The fact is, this agreement will set a precedent. It will pave the way for other agreements with large Asian countries – I am thinking in particular of Japan, but there will be others. What is more, this is the first agreement reached after the Treaty of Lisbon, and it is therefore crucial for the European Parliament – and I support our rapporteur on this point – to make its voice heard and to be heard by the Commission.
That is why, whatever happens – I am not prejudging the vote on the Free Trade Agreement – we must make the safeguard clause tougher and, in particular, we must review the duty drawback mechanism, implement a regional safeguard clause, strengthen the European Parliament’s role in the procedure, introduce an ad hoc committee procedure that respects Parliament’s rights, and integrate social and environmental standards.
Lastly, as you promised, Commissioner, we do not want this Free Trade Agreement to be applied on a temporary basis before the European Parliament has voted definitively on it.
Thank you for listening to me and, I hope, taking my comments on board.
Evelyn Regner (S&D). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, this first Free Trade Agreement since the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force contains some positive elements: the role of the European Parliament has been strengthened and safeguards have been provided for the event that trade union or workers’ rights are infringed.
Nonetheless, the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea must not be used as a blueprint for future free trade agreements on the part of the European Union. Why is that? The European Union has set itself high aspirations with the objectives and values laid down in the treaties and, in particular, in the Treaty of Lisbon – and it must live up to these in matters such as human rights and legal certainty, to name but two.
I would therefore like to draw a connection between this and all the other current Free Trade Agreements – particularly that with Colombia and Peru, with the Andean states, which has already been negotiated and is awaiting approval. Before concluding an agreement with third countries, it is essential to conduct a very meticulous dialogue on human rights. The content of the Free Trade Agreement needs to be tailored to the specific situation of the countries concerned, particularly in the areas of trade and of social and environmental standards. We must especially prevent these countries – and also the EU – from simply running after the carrot of a Free Trade Agreement, and then – once they have got the carrot – simply returning to their old ways, having received absolution for their infringements of human rights.
George Sabin Cutaş (S&D). – (RO) The bilateral safeguard clause in the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Korea is a protection measure which would be required if Korean imports were to threaten to cause serious harm to industry and jobs in the European Union.
The principle of duty drawback, whereby Korean companies are permitted to have customs duty refunded for major components, is particularly sensitive as it could benefit the latter and could also have a sizeable impact on European competitiveness.
The EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement remains a beneficial arrangement as long as it abides by the principle of fair competition. In this context, the Commission will need to monitor rigorously the trend in exports between South Korea and the European Union, especially in the sectors regarded as being vulnerable, and take rapid action to rectify any irregularity.
The control system deployed also needs to be strengthened to allow representatives from the industries affected, trade unions and social partners, as well as the European Parliament in its role as direct representative of the EU’s citizens, to sound the alarm bell and ask for an investigation to be launched.
The European Parliament’s role in the control system and the concerns regarding duty drawback are issues on which Parliament, the Council and the European Commission will need to reach a compromise rapidly. With this in mind, the vote for this report during this parliamentary session is a positive step, indicating Parliament’s readiness to adopt this regulation as soon as possible.
IN THE CHAIR: Roberta ANGELILLI Vice-President
Elisabeth Köstinger (PPE). – (DE) Madam President, I would like to thank the rapporteur and the shadow rapporteurs for the work they have done and for their good cooperation, and wish them continued success throughout the remainder of the negotiations.
Above all, I welcome the rapid headway made in the negotiations on the safeguard clause of the agreement with Korea. Through the prompt vote in Committee in July and the planned vote on the amendments in September, as well as its capacity to act in the negotiations, the European Parliament has shown that we can work efficiently and constructively in the wake of Lisbon. The Council is now urged to do the same, so that we can quickly reach agreement on the safeguard clause.
I welcome the Commission proposal for a declaration on social and environmental standards. It is a good compromise which highlights the importance of this point. In particular, the strengthening of the role of Parliament may be seen as an important step towards the democratisation of trade policy and I urge the Council and the Commission to find a solution that ensures the efficient and strong involvement of the European Parliament.
I would like to emphasise once again that Parliament will not yield on this matter. In particular, I see the Commission proposal to include duty drawback in the safeguard clause as an important step and I urge the Council to support this proposal.
My request to the Commission is to pay more attention to the Korean Government’s planned CO2 regulation and to push in the negotiations for a fair and free regulation for our European enterprises. The matter of the CO2 regulation should be settled before the agreement enters into force.
There has been a lot of positive feedback from nearly every area and sector: mechanical engineering, pharmaceuticals, electrical engineering, chemicals and numerous service providers. No doubt, some sectors would have liked to have more, but overall, there is great satisfaction – with the exception of the automotive industry. Even here, there are clear differences between some manufacturers and suppliers and others. We are definitely on the right path when it comes to the agreement with Korea.
Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). – (SK) The Free Trade Agreement with South Korea should generally contribute towards stimulating trade and boosting employment. Some branches of industry, however, will secure many advantages from it while others, conversely, will suffer considerable harm.
I am in favour of taking into account the justified concerns of certain branches of industry, including the car industry, and therefore also the adoption of a regulation on the implementation of a protection clause in relation to free trade between the EU and Korea. In view of the fact that the Free Trade Agreement could affect branches of industry in the various Member States in different ways, I fully agree with the rapporteur’s proposal for there to be a possibility of applying protective measures in exceptional cases at the regional level, because it is necessary to take account of the specific situation in the various Member States, and the regions affected must have the possibility of applying measures preventing a serious negative impact on the regional economy and employment.
In conclusion, I would like to mention that the Commission consequently has a responsibility to see to the correct and prompt implementation of this legal instrument in order to prevent serious harm being done to an area of the EU.
Bogusław Liberadzki (S&D). – (PL) Madam President, Commissioner, I wanted to mention a number of matters relating to the automotive industry, especially the popular car industry. I would like to draw attention to two aspects, the first being the value of car parts imported into Korea and then sold to us, for which there are certain thresholds, and the second being the method used to calculate customs duties for the mounted parts within the framework of the quota. Apprehension has been expressed by popular European car manufacturers concerning these two thresholds, the number of parts imported by Korea and the method used to calculate customs duties. I would like to request that perhaps attention should be paid to our ability to enforce the relevant regulations.
Olle Schmidt (ALDE). – (SV) Madam President, I sometimes think that we need to remind ourselves what Europe’s strength – the fundamental strength for Europe’s development – actually is. Where has this strength lain? It has lain in the ability to open up markets, to create opportunities for freer trade. The situation in Europe today is not good, but it is much better than it could have been.
Is it also not the case that it is our intention, with global free trade, to overcome poverty and create freedom in the world in exactly the same way? I have to say, therefore, that I am sometimes a little concerned when I listen to some of my fellow Members, who are clearly trying to create new barriers and make the development of free trade more difficult.
I think that this is the wrong way to go about things. I just wanted to say this and to express my support for Commissioner De Gucht. It is free trade that creates freedom and keeps people out of poverty. That is the path that the European Parliament should take.
Seán Kelly (PPE). – Madam President, when this was discussed last year, I spoke in favour of it. I am very pleased at the progress that has been made since and congratulate the rapporteur and the Commission.
I think it is very important for us in the European Union to have good Free Trade Agreements, particularly with countries whose political philosophy we can sympathise and agree with. I think a country like Korea needs close links with the European Union, especially when it is surrounded by some hostile regimes. Certainly there are huge benefits. I think it is important that we emphasise those benefits to all our citizens, so that they can benefit.
It is up to Korea to do the same in their country. There are pitfalls, but I think the safeguards, as outlined by my colleague, Ms Köstinger, can overcome those. I certainly welcome this agreement. I hope it will come into being as quickly as possible and we can go on to make agreements with other, similar countries with a philosophy something like our own, especially in Asia, and especially with Japan.
Jiří Havel (S&D). – (CS) Madam President, Commissioner, I welcome the fact that such progress has been made in negotiating an agreement with Korea. Of course, the development of the market is our goal, the development of competition is helpful to us, and Korea is unquestionably a friendly country. On the other hand, there remain serious questions which the current form of the agreement does not address. It is, however, a question of obligations in the environmental field which should be reciprocal; it is a question of human rights and also of ensuring that products from other countries do not come to Europe via this agreement with Korea. All of this could endanger our jobs; it could endanger our companies. I hope that as before, we will move forward quickly and find an acceptable compromise. Without such a compromise, it would, of course, be very difficult for us to vote in favour of this agreement.
Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE). – (PL) The European Commission proposal fulfils the expectations of the European Parliament, and especially of our industry, regarding protection of the latter and observance of the principles of competitive trade. The European Parliament, representing European society, considers the creation of protective clauses to be very important in order to create equality of opportunity for particularly vulnerable sectors of our economy. Free trade and participation in the world market are what drives development, but only when all sides abide by environmental and occupational standards and there are no other forms of State support, so that trade is based on the principles of full competitiveness.
Karel De Gucht, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, as several Members have stressed, negotiations are ongoing between the Commission, Parliament and Council, so I will limit myself to some summary remarks.
Firstly, concerning the CO2 provision, I had a discussion with the Korean Minister for Trade about ten days ago in Da Nang. We discussed the CO2 provisions they are going to initiate in Korea. These are very important because, if the content were not acceptable, it could make the concessions the Koreans have made for European car exports seem rather hollow.
It is clear that the Korean Government will come forward with proposals before 15 October, which means that we will be fully aware of what they contain before we have the final discussion on ratification. We will follow this matter very closely. I made it very clear to the Korean Minister that if this is not satisfactory, then this is a no-go for us in Europe.
Let me also add something on the agreement. There is, in fact, already an agreement between the United States and Korea but, up to now, the US administration has not proposed it to the US Congress. There is talk that there will be new discussions between Korea and the US. Let me just stress that the Korean Minister has stated very clearly that, if anything changes in the agreement between the US and Korea, this will automatically also apply to Europe. So the fear that something might happen between Korea and the US that would be detrimental for Europe is not correct. It will automatically apply to Europe as well.
On duty drawback, we agreed to monitor this, from its entry into force, in the sensitive sectors. We can also take that information into account in safeguards investigations. We are very close to an agreement on this in the trialogue discussions.
I have rather more problems with the possibility of Parliament initiating proceedings, and with the regional safeguards, because regional safeguards, to my mind, are no longer possible under Lisbon. We are prepared to discuss possible alternatives to this, but the Council’s legal service has made it very clear that this would completely contradict the Lisbon Treaty. So we will have to be careful there.
I must say that, as far as the possible initiation of proceedings is concerned, I do not see much room for this. To my mind, that is not what I would call the proper role of Parliament. Obviously, you can ask the Commission to initiate these proceedings by voting through a resolution, but I have doubts as to whether there should be a right to initiate them formally.
I would like to make a final remark concerning my introductory speech. Thank you for listening with great concentration to what I said in that intervention, namely that a decision will most likely be adopted once the European Parliament has given its consent to the FTA and an agreement on the safeguard regulation has been reached.
You will probably have some difficulty with the words ‘most likely’, but I cannot put it any other way for the simple reason that it is up to the Council to decide. I cannot speak for the Council. I can say what the Commission’s position is, and we will insist with the Council that it would only do this once the safeguard regulation is adopted and Parliament has given its consent to the FTA.
That is our clear position. Parliament should ask in the trialogue for the Council itself to engage on this and say that it will not do this before the final vote in Parliament. However, I can only say ‘most likely’ because it is not up to me to say what the Council should do. I can explain the Commission’s position but I cannot speak for the Council.
So that is where we are at the moment. The discussions are going well in the trialogue. In the coming days, we will have fresh discussions and I really believe that we can come to a solution that is acceptable to everyone.
Pablo Zalba Bidegain, rapporteur. – (ES) Madam President, I would like to thank my fellow Members for their kind words.
Commissioner De Gucht, as we have heard here today, the European Parliament is making its position very clear.
As one fellow Member said, this is an historic moment that will set a precedent and this is an historic report that will set a precedent for future agreements. Parliament wants to reach an agreement at first reading and will do everything it can to achieve that.
As one of my fellow Members said, this is a key moment for European industry, which needs the new incentives and new markets that this agreement is bound to bring.
This is also, however, a delicate time for employment, and we need to guarantee employment in Europe. We also need to guarantee that this agreement does not damage European industry, and in order to do so, we need a strong safeguard clause such as the one adopted by the Committee on International Trade, which will probably be endorsed and strengthened by Parliament’s votes tomorrow.
It is therefore now time for the Council and also the Commission to act. The Commission must continue to support us, and we appeal to both institutions to take responsibility. I want to stress that we will seek to reach an agreement at first reading, but we need to get moving. I believe that it is possible, and we await the proposals.
Robert Sturdy (ECR). – Madam President, unfortunately my transport here – the train from Brussels, on which I know some Belgian members of the Council were also travelling – was held up for well over an hour. I did telephone ahead to ask for my name to be taken off the list, as I take my speaking time in this Chamber very seriously. I tried to telephone ahead and my secretary telephoned and asked my name to be taken off the speaking list.
I apologise for drawing this to your attention. I would have spoken had I been here. Unfortunately I was unable to do so because of the transport situation, but my name was still left on the list. By the way, I support Mr Zalba totally.