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B7-0061/2012

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PV 16/02/2012 - 6
CRE 16/02/2012 - 6

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P7_TA(2012)0060

Debates
Thursday, 16 February 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

6. Regional Convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin - Regional Convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the joint debate on:

- the recommendation by Emilio Menéndez del Valle, on behalf of the Committee on International Trade, on the draft Council decision on the conclusion of the regional convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin (11343/2010 - C7-0207/2011 - 2010/0093(NLE)) (A7-0026/2012), and

- the oral question to the Commission on the proposal for a Council decision on the conclusion of the regional convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin, by Emilio Menéndez del Valle and Vital Moreira, on behalf of the Committee on International Trade (O-000024/2012 - B7-0036/2012).

 
  
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  Emilio Menéndez del Valle, rapporteur. (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, one of the Union’s highest priorities must be to ensure that an area of peace, development, justice and freedom, spanning both shores of the Mediterranean, can become an enduring reality.

The association agreements entered into with our Mediterranean partners in the framework of the Barcelona Process were the first step towards establishing a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area. One of the main reasons why it was not possible to attain this objective in 2010 was the lack of social, economic and commercial integration among our Southern neighbours.

The ‘Arab Spring’, as you well know, is the most momentous change since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In this regard, we should certainly congratulate the High Representative, Baroness Ashton, and the Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, for having given the convention on which we are voting today a priority status among the different commitments that make up the Union’s response to this situation.

This convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean rules of origin constitutes a major step forward in the establishment of the free trade area. Its adoption will ratify a single, simplified instrument which replaces more than 100 bilateral protocols currently in existence, and will broaden its geographical scope to include the Western Balkans and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), as well as the Mediterranean countries.

The convention is therefore an incentive for South-South trade, and as such it may contribute to economic growth, economic diversification, the reduction of poverty, democratisation and integration in the region.

I trust that over the course of this debate, the Commission will be able to provide a satisfactory response to the questions and concerns that this House has almost unanimously put forward in the form of an oral question and a resolution.

In addition to the absence of a dispute settlement mechanism, a review clause and an impact assessment, it is also important to address the importation and potential cumulation of origin of products originating – if you will forgive the repetition – from illegal Israeli settlements.

Unfortunately, I have to add that, although the technical agreement currently in place between Israel and the European Union requires customs authorities and Israeli exporters to determine whether products exported to the Union originate from the settlements, the procedure does not contemplate this data being passed on to European customs. This prevents our customs, which are unable to examine each individual consignment coming from Israel due to the lack of a special budget, from complying simply and efficiently with international law and with their duty to deny applicability of the preferential treatment provided in the agreement between the European Union and Israel to products originating from Israeli-occupied territories.

I therefore believe a commitment on the part of the Commission to determine the real origin of products exported by Israel in a better, simpler, more efficient way – taking on board the proposals set out in the resolution – would be most welcome. It would also garner broad support for the convention, thereby avoiding the possibility that this issue might become an obstacle preventing both its adoption and the social and economic integration of the Mediterranean region, a region of great significance for the European Union as a whole, particularly in the current circumstances.

 
  
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  Vital Moreira, author. (PT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, my colleague, Mr Menéndez del Valle, has already explained the reasons why the Committee on International Trade, of which we are both members, is recommending that Parliament give its assent to the conclusion of this convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin for free trade. In fact, this is not just a case of taking another step forward in building this Euro-Mediterranean free trade area and making it more consistent. It is also a case of encouraging regional integration on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean by encouraging South-South trade; that is, trade between our Mediterranean partners.

Indeed, the European Union, strong from its success as an area of economic integration, has always encouraged the economic integration of other areas. It therefore does not make us look bad to do everything we can to encourage others to follow us and take advantage of economic and trade integration in the same way.

As Mr Menéndez del Valle has already said, we are thinking not just of recommending the adoption of this report, but also of asking the Commission a series of questions, which we consider necessary in order to reinforce our belief in supporting this agreement. As such, we would ask the following questions, which Mr Menéndez del Valle and I wrote together, and which the rapporteur has already briefly mentioned.

Firstly, in order for this agreement to significantly support democratic transition on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, it will need to bring genuine economic benefits to those countries. Has there been any evaluation of the true positive impact of this agreement and of these new preferential rules of origin? Secondly, the convention does not include any conflict resolution mechanism. Could this be because the Commission considers – and I would like the Commissioner to justify this to us – the conflict resolution mechanisms already in place with many of these countries sufficient? The convention also does not include any revision mechanism.

Does the Commission believe that these rules will do for evermore; that there will be no need for periodic evaluation of these rules, so as to justify their future revision? Finally, there is the very politically sensitive issue that Mr Menéndez del Valle has already mentioned of products originating from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. It is clear that we have to be absolutely certain that these products are unable to benefit from the trade preferences that the Union awards to its partners, including the Palestinian Authority and Israel. These products cannot benefit from these advantages, and that is the least the EU can do if it is not to be complicit in the illegitimate occupation of Palestinian land. There can be no doubt in this regard, and a strong commitment from the European Commission on this matter is essential.

 
  
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  Michel Barnier, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, I would first like to thank Mr Menéndez del Valle and Mr Moreira for this report and this question, to which I will reply on behalf of my colleague, Algirdas Šemeta, who regrets that he is unable to be here personally to reassure you, honourable Members, of the Commission’s total commitment to the gradual creation of a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area and the social and economic integration of our southern Mediterranean partners.

Mr Menéndez del Valle and Mr Moreira, you asked several questions, which I would like to answer accurately on behalf of Mr Šemeta. First, the regional convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin is one of the first practical responses to the historical and positive events that have recently taken place in the countries of many of our southern Mediterranean neighbours.

This convention is important for several reasons. First, it will promote trade between the European Union and its southern Mediterranean neighbours. It will therefore foster economic integration amongst them. It will then pave the way for a simplification of the rules of origin and their adaptation to the new economic order of the region. It will also enable other European neighbours, most notably, the countries of the Western Balkans, to integrate into the pan-Euro-Mediterranean area by offering them new opportunities within an enlarged trade area.

Furthermore, since I am talking about the economic integration of this region and its association with the European Union, I am expressing, as Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, the concern and the idea that one of the ways for this region which is opening up to democracy and the world, would undoubtedly be for these countries at the other side of the Mediterranean to succeed in first creating a common market amongst themselves. The other day, I heard the new President of Tunisia argue for the creation of such a market, which would facilitate trade, communications, the dismantling of borders and the removal of obstacles between countries, most notably, the countries in the Arab Maghreb. However, we also have tools, as I have just said, to move towards a free trade area, organised between them and us, beyond the Mediterranean.

The second question you asked me was whether a dispute settlement mechanism had been provided for in the body of the convention. Such a mechanism is indeed included under Article 33 of Appendix 1 to the convention. This, moreover, is logically where it belongs, insofar as the disputes that may arise between partner countries will concern essentially bilateral issues relating to the verification of proofs of origin.

Honourable Members, the text of this Appendix will be legally binding and it will replace the protocols relating to the rules of origin, which are currently annexed to the bilateral free trade agreements between partners of the pan-Euro-Mediterranean area. Thus, all the free trade agreements concluded between these partners will refer to the same rules of origin and therefore to identical dispute settlement provisions.

The third question you asked me was whether the convention and its Appendices could be revised at any time. For example, after several years of implementation and in the light of the experience gained, amendments may be adopted by decision of the Joint Committee, as precisely stipulated in Article 4 of the convention. I cite: ‘The Joint Committee shall adopt by decision amendments to this convention, including amendments to the Appendices’. We are not, therefore, in a totally rigid procedure, which will never move. In the light of experience, and you have cited a number of problems, developments are possible. This mechanism will be developed in the Rules of Procedure of the Joint Committee created by the convention.

As regards the fourth question, I would like to assure you, Mr Menéndez del Valle and Mr Moreira, on behalf of Mr Šemeta, that the Commission is monitoring the technical arrangement between the European Union and the State of Israel very closely and is taking the necessary measures to improve, if necessary, the functioning of the arrangement. The notice to importers on imports from Israel is currently being examined very closely for that purpose.

The Commission services are examining, in close cooperation with the customs authorities of all the Member States, the possibility of releasing the list of settlements and publishing a modified version of the notice to importers. The objective of such a measure would be to oblige importers to verify themselves the post codes on the proofs of origin established in Israel which they intend to submit to the customs authorities of the EU Member States. This should, I believe, improve controls, with the task of verification being, in the future, shared between the importers and the customs authorities.

To ensure that no settlement product benefits unduly from a preference in the European Union through cumulation with partners having a free trade agreement with Israel, the Commission believes that the best approach would be to invite these partners to negotiate with Israel arrangements that are similar or identical to that negotiated by the European Union.

Finally, I want to state categorically that the Commission is satisfied with how the technical arrangement operates. That is why, today, it does not think it is necessary to change its legal status.

Those are the answers that Mr Šemeta wanted to give to the four questions you wanted to ask the Commission.

 
  
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  Ana Gomes, rapporteur for the opinions of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Subcommittee on Human Rights, and the Subcommittee on Security and Defence. (PT) Mr President, this regional convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin could contribute decisively to developing the economic integration of the Euro-Mediterranean region, which is one of the main objectives of European Union policy since the Barcelona Process and is essential if the Arab Spring is not to fizzle out.

We know that our partners in the southern and eastern Mediterranean have been wanting the conclusion of this convention for a long time. To date, the countries of the South have underutilised the trade possibilities opened up to them by the European Union. In order to avoid bureaucracy, they have often struggled on, without ensuring that they are benefiting from the possible customs duty exemptions. Thanks to this convention, which will unify the tangle of over 100 bilateral agreements on rules of origin, the system will be more accessible and simpler for the companies of our southern neighbours. It will therefore encourage trade from the South to the European Union, but also trade between the countries of the southern Mediterranean themselves, including Libya, from the outset.

However, it needs to be understood that this convention on its own, however beneficial it may be, will not be enough to make the transformation that we want in EU trade relations with the southern Mediterranean. We can help trade among southern countries to grow, but we cannot force it on them. Our partners to the south face a pressing problem in removing the barriers that exist between them and establishing South-South trade agreements, specifically among all the countries of the Maghreb. There is a need for political change on the ground if the possibility of cumulation of origin, strengthened in the new convention, is not to remain underutilised. Political change on the ground is important, for example, on the Morocco-Algeria border. It is also crucial to observe strictly the political conditionality applicable to products originating from the Israeli settlements in Palestine or the occupied territory of Western Sahara, which we cannot allow to enjoy these preferential rules.

 
  
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  Tokia Saïfi, on behalf of the PPE Group. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to thank my colleagues, Mr Menéndez del Valle and Mr Moreira, for their collaboration on this important issue.

You are quite right, Commissioner. This convention marks an important milestone. It is the first practical implementation of the communication on ‘A partnership for democracy and shared prosperity with the southern Mediterranean’ of March 2011. I therefore hope that it is ratified quickly after our vote, especially since it is already in force in some other countries in the area, and the European Union had vowed to be the first to do so.

I would like to draw your attention to a number of points. The first relates to the problem of products from the occupied territories, which, as a first step, calls for greater vigilance on the part of the customs authorities.

The second point relates to the economic operators and the difficulty they have in getting to know, understanding and using the system of rules of origin. One solution could be more communication and technical support. I will use the example of the Export Desk, which was created in 2004. It is a useful tool for exporters from third countries, but it is relatively unknown. I have also noticed that the guide on the rules of origin has only been translated into English, whilst the rest of the site has been translated into Arabic. This may be just a detail but, given the complexity of these rules, it would seem to me that the users would appreciate having a guide in their own language.

The third point relates to the rules of origin. Our Committee is currently examining an own-initiative report on the trade and investment strategy for the Mediterranean. One of the rapporteur’s proposals is to bring together the rules of origin of the generalised preference system and those of the pan-Euro-Mediterranean convention. It would be helpful for us to have the opinion of the Directorates General for Trade (TRADE) and for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD) on this point. Is it feasible? Is it a good solution?

Lastly, I call on the Commission to maintain the pace of the other reforms it announced last year in the March communication. Any delay could be interpreted as a negative signal by all the neighbouring countries.

 
  
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  Jörg Leichtfried, on behalf of the S&D Group.(DE) Mr President, I would like to begin by thanking and congratulating Mr Menéndez del Valle and Mr Moreira for their excellent work. This was a very good report and it was important to formulate a position on this situation. I believe that the Committee on International Trade has good reason to approve this regional convention. If we look back over Europe’s history, we can see that it was free trade that provided the original, informal basis for the European Union. It was free trade under social conditions – a point that should always be made in this regard – which contributed significantly to the uniting of the European Community to become the European Union and, in the final analysis, to prosperity within the European Union.

If we could now succeed in developing a similar system of free trade within the entire Mediterranean region, then I am convinced that this could represent an enormous opportunity for the Riparian States of the Mediterranean to improve their prosperity and, above all, to work together in peace, something that is not always the case.

It is a positive step that we have succeeded in replacing several hundred agreements with one single agreement. I believe that this will work. However, and here I take issue with the Commissioner’s answer, we should, of course, consider a more intensive form of dispute settlement. We still see that not everything is always harmonious within the European Union. That is why dispute settlement procedures really could make sense.

Our aim must remain a general free trade agreement; however, we have not yet quite achieved this. As Ms Gomes has said, we cannot force anyone into this. We can only offer encouragement. However, I believe we have already taken a step in the right direction.

 
  
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  Niccolò Rinaldi, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the report by Mr Menéndez del Valle, who I congratulate, is a very important document as part of the effort we are making, in the Committee on International Trade and in Parliament as a whole, to define new rules and provide a different impetus for trade in the Mediterranean.

It is an essential task and one of the great challenges – taking advantage of the exclusive jurisdiction of the European Union on matters of international trade – to provide solutions to those countries that still today have vast untapped potential in terms of trade policy with us. It is not only a matter of bringing about greater stability and prosperity, but also of expanding the social and production base among those who may benefit from the trade policy.

In my view, this convention should have three important effects: firstly, promoting South-South trade, now almost at a minimum in the Mediterranean; secondly, promoting market access for small and medium-sized enterprises, so as to operate what I call – as the rapporteur for another measure – ‘Trade for Change’, in other words, trade measures for countries undergoing democratisation in the southern Mediterranean – liberating economic and commercial processes in countries where the few oligarchies in power have centralised the proceeds from trade into their own hands; and finally, making this trade more readily understandable through simple rules.

The problem of Israel must also be addressed because otherwise, the credibility of Parliament is at stake. This is an important work: we often wonder why we have only now managed to simplify the 100 plus different regulations governing rules of origin.

It is now important for everyone to ratify it as soon as possible. What is happening with regard to the ratification of the mandate of the European Investment Bank for the Mediterranean is not very encouraging, given that Member States are proceeding very slowly. We hope that there will not be the same delay for the convention.

 
  
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  Paul Murphy, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – Mr President, in my opinion, this convention must not be concluded until it is explicitly excluded that goods from illegal Israeli settlements could benefit from preferential access to EU markets as a result. At the moment, it does open the door for that potentially to happen, which is not only wrong but it is also in contrast to official EU policy.

The settlements are a major tool of the occupation of the Palestinian territories. According to official Israeli land records, one third of the land within the settlements is privately held by Palestinians. Over 600 of the Palestinian-owned structures which were dismantled last year were located within the settlements and last year, five Palestinians, including two children, were killed, and over a thousand people were injured, by settlers or by security forces in incidents related to the settlements. These settlements must be dismantled immediately.

Instead of opening a loophole for these goods to come into the EU market with preferential access, in reality, the door to the EU market should be shut altogether.

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the EFD Group. (NL) Mr President, this new convention represents a major simplification of the various existing provisions. That is a good thing. It could provide a boost to trade, economic growth, poverty reduction and the southern Mediterranean countries’ mutual social, commercial and economic integration. This dossier has been labelled by the Commission as a priority within the framework of our response to the Arab Spring, as it has become known. In the light of current developments, democracy does not seem to have been an obvious outcome of these insurrections. Let our trade policy, therefore, not be a naïve one.

Though I speak in favourable terms of this new pan-Euro-Mediterranean convention, I would like to express my disapproval of the accompanying resolution. Ten of the 19 recitals and eight of the 20 paragraphs are devoted to the alleged incorrect application of the implementing rules of Protocol 4 of the association agreement between the EU and Israel. This seems to me to be not only disproportionate, but also inconsistent with the statements made by the Directorate General Taxation and Customs Union last year, to the effect that this agreement is being satisfactorily implemented.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, it is well known that difficulties exist with the administration of the current web of bilateral protocols in relation to the rules of origin between the countries and regions of the pan-Euro-Mediterranean zone. If these are now changed, then I believe that care should be taken to ensure that income in the relevant regions does not result in a less favourable situation than under the previous free trade agreements. After all, this strategy is intended to consolidate and promote the free movement of goods between the EU and the partner countries in this area.

In principle, the ban on duty drawback on diagonal trade must be upheld in the pan-Euro-Mediterranean zone. This is not without its problems in the case of the Palestinian Authority for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There are frequent disputes in this region relating to the actual country of origin of goods. As the agreement is currently undergoing an overhaul, it would be a positive thing if the EU were to pay greater attention to this problem. In the context of the pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin, new provisions should be sought that will efficiently put an end to misuse.

 
  
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  Gianluca Susta (S&D).(IT) Mr President, the political importance of the convention under discussion today will be clear to everyone. The European Union is well consolidated, but a further process of integration within the confines of Europe and between Europe and the rest of the world on its borders is a prerequisite for strengthening this region in the new global balance of power.

Once again, a modern framework for trade relations may be a useful point of compromise between those who believe that Europe should primarily have an Atlantic vocation and those who believe that a new balance of power in the Mediterranean is essential for building a democratic future for Europe.

This convention brings together in an improved multilateral, if interregional, logic, all the different positions currently in force concerning the origin of goods traded with the participants in the Barcelona Process, the EFTA States, the Faroe Islands and all of the Balkan States participating in the Stabilisation and Association Process.

By adopting a legal instrument of this kind, it will be easier in the future to have recourse to the pan-Euro-Mediterranean system of cumulation of origin, and therefore agree on preferential tariff treatment for Mediterranean goods, although the absence of a review clause and uniform provisions for the settlement of disputes must be lamented. Precisely for this reason, the convention may be an important element to help revive a process which began in Barcelona almost 20 years ago and to which various initiatives refer, some more convincing and effective than others, but all of them important, such as the Union for the Mediterranean, the trade road map agreed under the framework of that process.

Ours is an ambitious goal, but a slow-moving one due to the imbalances that are still too strong between the two shores of the Mediterranean, the political instability that is still crossing the Middle East – which requires greater effort from the European Union to push Israel to respect the international agreements on the Occupied Territories – and on account of the uncertainties linked to the evolution of the Arab Spring in North Africa. These are all major outstanding issues, which require a strong political and diplomatic initiative from the European Union.

 
  
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  Alexandra Thein (ALDE).(DE) Mr President, I welcome the fact that trading relations are to be established with a view to creating a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area in response to the Arab Spring, and that the over 100 bilateral protocols are to be brought together in a single regional agreement.

I would, however, like to draw attention to one critical point, namely, products that purportedly originate from Israel. There have been some serious flaws in the implementation of the association agreement between the EU and Israel concluded in 1995. We in this House are all aware of this. I recently drew attention to precisely this flaw in a written question to the Commission. We know from several sources, including our customs authorities, that Israeli settlers have intentionally falsely labelled goods produced in the occupied Palestinian territories, including fruit and vegetables, also issuing these goods with falsified certificates, declaring the country of origin of these products to be Israel. This was in order for this produce to gain access to the EU’s single market at preferential conditions, including lower tax rates.

We cannot have a situation whereby this new agreement will also be misused in further extending this illegal practice. Mr Barnier, I believe it is extremely important that the aforementioned list of the designations of origin of the various Palestinian villages and towns should be published. Our delegation has long been of the view that this list should not be kept secret, but should be published in the interests of greater transparency and clarity and to help restrict abuses.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D). (RO) Mr President, events in the southern neighbourhood of the European Union have led to a rethinking of the political and trade relations with the countries in the Mediterranean area. A first step in this direction was the awareness that the principle of conditionality towards democratic reforms, the pillar of the European Neighbourhood Policy, was more a concept than a real incentive for their achievement.

Today, we have a duty to support the democratic aspirations of the citizens living in these countries. Greater economic and trade integration can contribute to the achievement of this objective. Therefore, I consider that the regional convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin must be concluded. I share the rapporteur’s conviction that this will facilitate trade between these developing countries, thus contributing to the reduction of poverty and to economic growth and diversification. The changeover to the Euro-Mediterranean system on the cumulation of origin, consisting of over one hundred bilateral protocols on a regional instrument, will reduce the complexity of current regional trade rules. It should also be noted that this change applies not only to the southern neighbouring countries, but also to the countries of the Western Balkans or the European Free Trade Association. Countries with a weak economy, such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, can take advantage of an integrated system of the rules of origin.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki , on behalf of the ECR Group.(PL) Mr President, an appeal has been lodged in this House for the European Commission to work quickly. In my opinion however, the value of the work of EU institutions should not be measured in terms of speed but in terms of positive outcomes. Otherwise, we will be dealing with a fiasco, as in the case of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). I would like to warn against this, first of all.

Secondly, the debate itself and a careful reading of the document clearly suggest that this is not a black-and-white matter. Significant questions and controversies exist in relation to various issues, which were voiced by previous speakers from different sides of the House. It seems, therefore, that this is not such a simple and straightforward issue. Finally, when discussing the free market, we should remember that it is entirely divorced from certain political decisions. This has also been discussed here. We have to decide whether we are taking certain decisions in order to increase trade and provide more detailed trade regulations, or whether these decisions are strictly political, and are – in one way or another – designed to support the EU’s neighbours that, to a greater or lesser extent, are in need of such support.

The devil is in the detail, as the old saying goes. I therefore unequivocally agree that certain issues, such as subsidies for exporters or effective customs inspections, need to be defined with great precision and in great detail, and that we should clarify the definition of genuine goods.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, this convention cannot be viewed in isolation from the role given to international trade by the European Union. It cannot be viewed in isolation from a vision of international trade geared towards competition and not complementarity; from the tired dogmas of free trade; from the tiresome and repetitive announcements of the glittering rewards that they assure us it will bring and that are repeatedly proven wrong by reality. Forget talk of the Arab Spring: as always, what is at stake is business; it is expanding and consolidating an unregulated free trade area. That is the case now, as it was before with the ‘friendly dictatorships’ with which the association agreements were concluded. The outcome is always the same: multinationals and big business are the winners, and small-scale producers, the workers and the peoples are the losers. This is the protection for the rich and powerful that always results from a lack of rules.

At this point, we would also like to mention Israel and the unacceptable lack of mechanisms making it impossible for that country to use trade preferences for products originating from the illegally occupied settlements in Palestinian territory. The Commission urgently needs to take measures to change this situation.

 
  
 

End of the catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Michel Barnier, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your substantial contribution to this debate and now, on behalf of my colleague, Mr Šemeta, I would like to provide some answers. However, I would first like to thank Ms Saïfi and Ms Gomes, as well as Mr Susta and Mr Cutaş, for reminding us that, with this convention, we are convinced that the European Union is sending a strong message to all its partners.

Mr Ferreira, contrary to what you said just now, this is not a matter of rhetoric. This goes well beyond rhetoric. Despite the economic crisis we are currently facing, we are committed to bringing our economies closer through these controlled exchanges with our Mediterranean partners and others.

For us and for our pan-Euro-Mediterranean partners, we have a shared interest in seeing democratic, stable, peaceful and prosperous societies in the southern Mediterranean. Mr Leichtfried had it right earlier when he said how trade could be useful, since these countries need to work, to prosper and to develop, not only for themselves. This is not about a self-sufficient economy; it is about an open economy, agricultural products, manufactured products and tourism exchanges, which will allow economic progress to take place.

Mr Leichtfried also stated, quite rightly, that that was how the European Union was born almost 60 years ago. We Europeans resolved to live together. We expressed not only the desire to live together but also an interest, a need to come together through the economy, business and trade. That is also what I referred to earlier as a common market perspective among the countries, most notably, the countries of the Arab Maghreb, with which we could, thus, probably establish a partnership more easily, from a common market to a single market.

Honourable Members, once this convention has been adopted – and I hope, as Mr Rinaldi hopes, that it will be adopted quickly – it should facilitate the revision of the pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin. This revision has been eagerly awaited by our partners in the area for a number of years. It is therefore now a priority and it must be concluded so that it can come into effect.

I wish to confirm to Ms Ana Gomes, Mr Rinaldi, Mr Murphy and Ms Thein that, with regard to products originating in the Israeli settlements – I spoke about this in great detail in my first speech – they will be refused preferential tariffs precisely because of the technical arrangement and, Ms Thein, the verifications must be carried out on the basis of post codes. This is a shared responsibility between the importers and the customs authorities.

I have also taken note of Ms Tokia Saïfi’s suggestion of a translation into Arabic. If I have understood correctly, the guides in question are those of third countries on the rules of origin. I do not know whether it is up to the European Union to do the translation or to the countries concerned. In any case, I think that it is a good suggestion. The services of Mr Šemeta will look into this to see who can do it in the most effective way possible. In any case, all these translations, not only among ourselves, but also with others and in their language, are one way to facilitate cooperation and dialogue.

Mr Leichtfried earlier raised the issue of dispute settlement and its proper functioning. We do, in fact, need a procedure for the settlement of disputes not only amongst ourselves but also in our relations with third countries. It is useful, first and foremost, at bilateral level. To address this issue of dispute settlement at bilateral level, we can apply the rules given in the relevant Appendix. If disputes have to be settled at plurilateral level, reference will therefore have to be made to the convention itself, to the introduction.

Mr Rinaldi touched upon the simplification of the rules of origin. Yes, we must move in that direction, and the convention is precisely the tool that will enable us to achieve this simplification.

Mr Mölzer rightly referred to incidents of abuse, which must be stopped. It is, in my opinion, the responsibility of the Member States to act to stop this abuse, and our feeling, our analysis, Mr Mölzer, is that the Member States are correctly fulfilling this responsibility.

Mr President, honourable Members, that is what I have to say in response to the questions asked and the points raised.

I would like to thank the author of this question and the rapporteur for their speeches and respond to the contribution by Mr Czarnecki, who expressed certain doubts, that I hope that this debate and the explanations I have given on behalf of Mr Šemeta will have dispelled a number of doubts, questions and reservations on the implementation of this convention, which must now, with you and thanks to you, take place quickly.

 
  
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  Emilio Menéndez del Valle, rapporteur. (ES) Mr President, thank you for your kindness in giving me extra speaking time. I do not think I will need it, as all the arguments have been presented in sufficient detail and all the relevant issues have been clearly laid out.

First and foremost, I would like to conclude this debate by congratulating all the parliamentary groups for their outstanding collaboration on this report, and particularly for the broad consensus we have achieved on this matter.

Commissioner, allow me to point something out with regard to the issue of postcodes, which you mentioned. I believe it is fair to say that there are sources even within the Commission that doubt the reliability of the postcode list. Besides, the postcode system would not reduce the burden on European customs in any noticeable way. I think this point should be taken into consideration.

Nonetheless, I absolutely agree, of course, with what you said in your first speech: that the solution to the problem of eliminating poverty and achieving social and economic growth lies primarily in integration of the South itself, cooperation, and South-South cooperation in particular. That is the general frame of reference for this issue.

To conclude, with regard to your statement that the Commission does not envisage changing the technical agreement currently in place between the European Union and Israel, I would like to make a couple of points: firstly, given that the Commission does not intend to change this technical agreement, I would urge it to at least endeavour to guarantee that the agreement is strictly complied with and to ensure that all its terms are met in full; secondly, I would also urge the Commission – not just Commissioner Barnier – to bear in mind that the position Mr Moreira and I have defended in this sitting, and have persistently defended as members of the Committee on International Trade, is, in fact, the position held by the majority in the European Parliament.

Thank you for making an efficient and brilliant contribution to this debate, Commissioner. Thank you, Mr President, for your work in this House and for having explained – I will now make use of the extra time you granted me earlier – that the Members of the European Parliament should make an effort to avoid speaking too quickly, as this hampers the work of the interpreters, and the effectiveness of this exchange of views is impaired as a result.

 
  
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  President. – I have received one motion for a resolution tabled in accordance with Rule 115(5) of the Rules of Procedure(1).

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 12.00.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Emer Costello (S&D), in writing. – I welcome this new convention which now provides one single and simplified instrument for pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin. It is aimed at aiding the process towards democracy unleashed by the Arab Spring. However, a very serious problem exists whereby products manufactured by Israeli producers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are exported under the terms of the EU-Israel association agreement. The EU’s position is clear; the European Council has concluded that settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. Indeed, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has specifically ruled in the Brita Case that the application of the EU-Israel association agreement to goods manufactured in Palestine is illegal. Moreover, the EU Heads of Mission have reportedly recently recommended in their report that products manufactured in settlements should not benefit from preferential treatment under the EU-Israel association agreement. The Commission must revise and upgrade the EU-Israel Technical Arrangement to a legally-binding agreement which ensures that the new convention does not perpetuate or create a situation which facilitates or encourages the abuse of the rules of origin.

 
  
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  Vincent Peillon (S&D), in writing. (FR) The objectives pursued by this regional convention: to replace more than 100 bilateral protocols with a single protocol; to integrate the countries of the Western Balkans into the pan-Euro-Mediterranean system of rules of origin; and to facilitate trade between the member countries, are contributing to the economic integration of the Euro-Mediterranean region, which has been a major objective of the EU’s Euro-Mediterranean policy since the Barcelona Process. In addition, its conclusion has been sought for a number of years by our partners in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean. After all the talk that accompanied the Arab revolutions, it is time to take action. The adoption of this convention will enable the EU to send for the first time a clear message of openness to trade to the countries of the southern Mediterranean, which are finally opening up to democracy. However, the convention alone will not suffice to bring about the major changes we are expecting in the EU’s trade relations with the southern Mediterranean. We therefore need to continue our efforts to support the development of South-South trade, to improve customs cooperation, to modernise the rules of origin themselves and, more generally, to review EU trade policy towards our Mediterranean partners, in that it should take more account of their interests.

 
  
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  Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE), in writing.(PL) The launch of the Barcelona Process in 1995 initiated the development of mutual cooperation in the Mediterranean area in the fields of politics and security, economics and finance, as well as social, cultural and humanitarian partnership. Efforts in these three areas were continued by the establishment in 2008 of the Union for the Mediterranean, with one of the ultimate objectives being the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area. The introduction of preferential and harmonised rules of origin, which, in particular, allow for diagonal cumulation, which, in turn, offers further support for goods produced in the different countries, is a significant step forward in the economic development of the region. It is of particular importance when the convention is to be signed by 42 countries. At the same time, the introduction of harmonised rules will make it much easier to conduct business, which consequently allows for an increase in economic activity. This also leads to strengthened cooperation, improved stability and security as well as to shared development on the basis of partnership, all of which were the founding principles of the Barcelona Process and remain its core objectives.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: OTHMAR KARAS
Vice-President

 
  

(1)See Minutes

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