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Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

18. Implementation of the bilateral safeguard clause and the stabilisation mechanism for bananas of the Trade Agreement between the EU and Colombia and Peru - Implementation of the bilateral safeguard clause and the stabilisation mechanism for bananas of the Association Agreement between the EU and Central America (debate)
Video of the speeches

  President. – The next item is the joint debate on:

– the report (A7-0249/2012) by Bernd Lange on behalf of the Committee on International Trade on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council implementing the bilateral safeguard clause and the stabilisation mechanism for bananas of the Trade Agreement between the European Union and Colombia and Peru (COM(2011)0600 - C7-0307/2011 - 2011/0262(COD)) and

– the report (A7-0237/2012) by Jörg Leichtfried on behalf of the Committee on International Trade on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council implementing the bilateral safeguard clause and the stabilisation mechanism for bananas of the Agreement establishing an Association between the European Union and its Member States on the one hand, and Central America on the other (COM(2011)0599 - C7-0306/2011 - 2011/0263(COD)).


  Bernd Lange, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending this evening’s sitting, so that we can discuss this matter. This issue is clearly not of interest to everyone in plenary this evening.

With these safeguard regulations we are still feeling our way somewhat in relation to the Treaty of Lisbon, because the roles of the various institutions and where certain things are regulated are still unclear. Thus we now have to incorporate a number of items in the legislation, by which I mean the ordinary legislation, that have already been included in the wording of the Treaty and in the Council’s decision, but which were in the wrong place. That is why it is good practice to take a closer look at the overall process of establishing this safety net for the agreement with Colombia and Peru.

On the one hand, we are placing demands on Colombia and Peru in the agreement and now we must also see how we can define the requirements that we place on ourselves. It is also important that the safety net should remain practicable. It makes little sense to set down regulations that are never applied. This is how things were done in the past. For this reason, we should exercise the powers we have to dust down the safety net legislation so that we can apply it in a positive way.

Commissioner, we are concerned about five points. The first is to see what the actual criteria are for casting a safety net. I am quite convinced that, in order to determine when something is having a detrimental effect on the market, we must also address the issue of social standards because, of course, the violation of social standards leads to dumping and can give rise to competitive advantages. Accordingly, this is one of the criteria for applying safety nets, particularly in the area of bananas.

Now for my second point. If we are cautious in our approach to the Treaty of Lisbon, then we will naturally find ourselves being more and more cautious about the role of the European Parliament. It is fundamental for us that we, like all the other European institutions, should have the power to launch an investigation.

My third point is that if we are serious about more transparency, then this also means that we must include civil society in our dialogue to a greater extent and that this should be institutionalised when we come to examine this agreement with Colombia and Peru. That is why I want to strengthen dialogue with civil society. We need more transparency. Commissioner, you always refer to the safeguard regulations with Korea as a template. The problem is that you have forgotten Article 11 of the agreement with Korea when it comes to the issue of the transparency of monitoring and reporting. I am referring to the requirement that a report must be presented that covers all the different angles, which is something we want to see guaranteed.

The fifth issue relates to providing security for the banana producers in Europe’s regions.


  Jörg Leichtfried, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, the situation and general issues with regard to Central America are similar to those with Peru and Colombia. I therefore very much concur in my report with what my colleague said earlier, so I can keep my speech a little shorter.

I believe that there are two aspects to the discussions currently under way – a technical aspect and another aspect that is a great deal broader. The technical aspect is relatively easy to explain: the safeguard clause is intended to protect European producers against unfair competition as a market is opened up, particularly in those areas close to this new market. We have done our utmost to frame the safeguard clauses so as to enable this to work, but also in such a way that free trade will be able to function more effectively in the future. Of course there are different opinions on how to achieve this, however I believe that we have found some good compromises that will help bring things to a resolution.

Then there is a second aspect that is perhaps more philosophical in nature, because it directly addresses the fundamental question: should trade policy just be restricted to trade policy, or should it go further? This is a question that has always concerned us in our discussions regarding the safeguard clause. I should state that the safeguard clause is just one small element in this agreement with Central America.

However this was also the reason why we said that a safeguard clause must be more than just a trade clause. It also needs to try to influence certain other things: the issues of human rights and social standards, as well as environmental aspects. Some legal opinions state that such things have no place in a safeguard clause. I believe, however, that they do have a place here and must be included, because such a clause, as Mr Lange has already explained, will protect European jobs and social standards. In order to achieve this, social standards, human rights and work conditions must also be improved in our partner countries.

Of course, the big question that divides us from many of our colleagues is to what extent these influences should be permitted, representing as they do attempts to intervene in other countries through trade policy. We cannot use trade policy as a way to coerce the governments of other countries into action. At best we can try to influence these governments so that they move in the direction we consider to be correct. That is what we have attempted to do. Of course, people differ on how far this should go. The result is a compromise. I believe it is an acceptable compromise. That is why I also believe that it makes sense to adopt these safeguard clauses tomorrow. Discussion of the nuts and bolts of the agreement will be more intensive in some areas. With regard to safeguard clauses, however, it must be seen that these are just safeguard clauses and not an entire agreement.


  Karel De Gucht, Member of the Commission. Mr President, dear colleagues, first of all, allow me to thank the rapporteurs, Mr Lange and Mr Leichtfried for the work they did on these files.

I would also like to thank you for the opportunity to clarify outstanding issues regarding the adoption of the Bilateral Safeguard Regulations in the context of the agreements with Colombia and Peru and with Central America. As you know, these agreements were signed in June, and Parliament will soon take a decision on them via an assent procedure. But before I go on to explain the importance of adopting these safeguard regulations, let me first once again underline the significance of these agreements for the EU and for these two Latin American regions.

These agreements, between the EU and Colombia and Peru, and between the EU and Central America, will fundamentally change and upgrade the relationship between the EU and these two regions. On the trade side, the agreements aim at opening markets for goods, services, government procurement and investment. Tariffs in industrial and fisheries products will be fully eliminated on both sides, while trade in agricultural products will be considerably enhanced by substantial tariff concessions. In addition, the agreements will establish a set of predictable and enforceable trade rules which in many instances go further than the commitments taken in the framework of the WTO.

In short, together with your report, these agreements will give us an improved, stable, predictable and enforceable set of trading conditions under which economic operators from the EU, Colombia, Peru and Central America will be able to take full advantage of the emerging complementarities between our respective economies. Beyond pure trade flows, let me remind you that these agreements will also improve far-reaching provisions guaranteeing the protection of human rights as well as commitments on labour rights and environmental protection and will foster the promotion of sustainable development.

Let me now move to the specific question of the adoption of the Bilateral Safeguard Regulations.

The objective of these regulations is to provide a safety net for the Union’s industry in case the tariff liberalisation results in an injurious surge of imports. We need them in order to implement the safeguard provisions of the agreements. The Commission welcomes the principle adopted by the rapporteurs when examining the Commission proposal and drafting the amendments, namely of following the model of Korea as closely as the specificities of the agreements allow.

There is also a consensus that the implementing regulations cannot be in conflict with the commitments undertaken in the agreements and WTO provisions. Here it is important not to lose focus. This parliamentary debate on the safeguard regulations is very important, but it should not serve as a framework to re-open questions that have already been addressed, such as the need to make these agreements conditional on respect for human and social rights. As you know, these issues are already covered by the agreements, and in its June 2012 resolution, Parliament already clearly expressed the political line to follow and the need for Colombia and Peru to present a roadmap on human labour and environmental rights. The Commission has taken due note of this resolution and is actively working with these countries on it.

To conclude, let me express my wish that the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission will enjoy good cooperation in the trialogues that will soon begin so that all the conditions will soon be met for Parliament to take a decision on these agreements.


  Gabriel Mato Adrover, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, based on the fact that in my view the agreements with Peru, Colombia and Central America are tremendously damaging for European banana producers, and the Canary Islands in particular, and that the only safety margin we have left is economic compensation via the Programme of Options Specifically Relating to Remoteness and Insularity (POSEI), which I hope is obtained, I have to express my satisfaction, given that these reports have included many of our proposals, which I am grateful for.

The negotiated safeguard clauses have been improved and the stabilisation mechanism for bananas has been strengthened. There will be greater transparency and exhaustive monitoring of banana imports into the European Union with prior surveillance measures.

Moreover, and what I believe is an essential point, the Commission shall present an annual report on how the clause is functioning, which should include an examination of the development of banana imports and their impact on European production. These are all very positive elements.

European banana producers, all of which also come from the outermost regions, need help during these difficult times. There still some way to go, but this is a very significant step.


  Pablo Zalba Bidegain, on behalf of the PPE Group.(ES) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the expected adoption of the amendments to the safeguard clause and the stabilisation mechanism for bananas is a key step towards Parliament adopting the two agreements with Central America, Colombia and Peru. Those agreements are essential for the future of the European Union.

These clauses, along with the progress made by Colombia, acknowledged by the political resolution adopted by this House on 13 June, as well as the support of the Central American countries and Peru for this regulation, should provide the final approval for the ratification of those agreements. These clauses will allow our producers to progressively adapt to a free-trade framework that will benefit us all.

At a time when the United States and Asian countries are signing free-trade agreements with American countries, such as the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) or the agreements between the United States and Colombia and Peru, respectively, we cannot allow the leading trading power in the world, the European Union, to continue to miss opportunities. In this sense, I share the concern of the European business sector at the delay in these agreements coming into force.


  Gianluca Susta, on behalf of the S&D Group.(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr Leichtfried, the negotiations on the trade agreement with Colombia, Peru and Central America and the corresponding stabilisation mechanisms and safeguard clauses have kept many of us and the Committee on International Trade very busy.

We are in favour of the proposed regulations because they secure a balance between various demands, all of them referring back to the principles of free trade, attending to Union interests, and international trade as a tool for growth and development based on environmental sustainability and respect for human rights. In particular, these regulations are designed to protect European companies and consequently the workers they employ – our farmers – especially those in the outermost regions of the European Union.

The safeguards and stabilisation mechanisms are effective for a limited time only, and we believe that the time period suggested is long enough for us to adapt our production system to the liberalisation measures included in the agreements and also for the countries in question to increase their exports considerably. That is why we voted in favour.


  Catherine Bearder, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, when is a hot potato not a hot potato? Well, when we are talking about the EU free trade agreements with Andean countries, the hot potato, for once, is not human rights but bananas.

As with all trade agreements, we need to ensure that by opening our markets we allow European companies and producers time to adapt to increased competition. I welcome the safeguard regulations in the FTAs with Colombia and Peru and with Central America, as well as most of the changes introduced by the Committee on International Trade.

However, we have had long and bitter experience with banana wars, so we should be careful not to slip on another banana skin by creating further battles. My group, the Liberals and Democrats, will vote against the amendments which, by sleight of hand, change the banana limits into automatic quotas.

We need to give the Commission the flexibility to decide, for example, if a surge in banana imports from Colombia or Costa Rica is harming EU banana producers or if it is simply compensating for reduced production in other parts of the world. That is not to say that we should give the Commission carte blanche. Indeed I strongly endorse the amendments which afford civil society and Parliament a stronger voice, so that the Commission is closely monitored and the views of ordinary citizens are respected in the whole process.


  Franziska Keller, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, there are enormous human rights problems in Central America, as well as in Peru and Colombia. As Members of the European Parliament, we cannot simply close our eyes to this fact.

We intend examining the road map for human rights demanded by Parliament in the case of Columbia and Peru once it has been drawn up. This must have substance and be binding and must cover initial results, such as the prosecution of criminals and the safe return of exiles to their country of origin. Naturally, this road map must be in place before we vote on the agreement. We, the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, believe it is right that the Committee on International Trade should call for environmental and social standards in the proposed regulation for the safeguard clauses, rather than just tonnage restrictions for bananas. This must be confirmed by the trialogue, as otherwise the regulation is worthless.

The EU needs to do a lot more to keep a close eye on the situation at local level and, above all, the impact on the local population. That is why the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance is also calling for a proper impact assessment prior to all negotiations, examining not only the economic impact on the EU, but also the impact on human rights.


  Younous Omarjee, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, I cannot share the optimism of those who think that the safeguard clauses, as amended, are enough to protect EU banana production. They are not. These clauses have nothing to do with ‘safeguard’ except the name. Unless the plan is to safeguard wholesale agreements that neither the Commission nor the signatory Member States are prepared to question and do not want to change. These agreements, as you know – and Mr Mato Adrover has reminded you – are very detrimental to the banana industries of the outermost regions. After all, the mechanisms that activate these banana clauses are such as to become inoperable, almost virtual. However, we are now being asked to applaud the illusion of production!

Despite these clauses, the banana industries of the West Indies have been left at the mercy of unfair competition from the exporting industries of Latin America and the blind trade liberalisation that the Commission wishes to impose. I therefore call on my colleagues to vote in favour of the amendments I have tabled, which provide minimum protection for the banana industries of the outermost regions and the jobs that depend on them.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))


  Jörg Leichtfried (S&D), blue-card question. – (DE) Mr President, Mr Omarjee, I take what you have to say very seriously because I too always try to achieve as much as possible, particularly when it comes to social conditions and the protection of jobs in Europe and in our partner countries. That is why I would like to ask you: what specific points would we need to include, so that you could vote in favour of these safeguard regulations?


  Younous Omarjee (GUE/NGL), blue-card answer. (FR) Mr President, Mr Leichtfried, thank you for your speech. I think – and it is the purpose of the amendments I have tabled, which were not adopted by the Committee on International Trade (INTA) and will be put to the vote tomorrow – that there is a problem concerning the activation of the safeguard clauses.

Too much is discretionary. This opinion, which is mine, is also that, I believe, of some members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) as well as banana professionals.

I think that, in order to activate these safeguard clauses, slightly more binding criteria should have been introduced. That is the first point.

The second point concerns the (off-microphone). I think there is a problem there, too.


  Josefa Andrés Barea (S&D).(ES) Mr President, the trade agreement with the Central American countries, Colombia and Peru is a significant agreement and the idea behind the safeguard clause, with all the amendments we have presented, is for it to be a quick, easy and guaranteed process. We have presented amendments to protect European production, in accordance with the Treaties, and to establish safety mechanisms for both European production and production in the countries where the agreement applies.

The outermost regions need protection given the lack of diversification of crops and the economic aspect, as a large number of jobs are affected – over 10 000 direct jobs and 35 000 indirect jobs in Spain, in a population that has been suffering unemployment – and because of their specific nature. Bananas in the Canary Islands, for example, have a very specific place in agriculture, culture and gastronomy.

The agreement is also required where it will be applied – Central America, Colombia and Peru – given that trade is essential for development, and development means workers’ rights, sustainability and profits for the producer.


  Patrice Tirolien (S&D). (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank our two rapporteurs for the work they have done on this issue.

It was necessary because we started from a very low base with the Commission’s basic proposal: no specific mention of the outermost regions, which are directly affected by competition from Latin American countries; no automatic activation of the stabilisation mechanism; no possibility for Parliament to ask for a safeguard investigation to be initiated; non-compliance of social and environmental standards as possibly constituting an unfair competitive advantage.

That is why it is extremely important that tomorrow’s vote validates the progress made on these points in the Committee on International Trade (INTA).

Nonetheless, it is not sufficient, because we know that the activation thresholds for both these regulations are so high that they render these mechanisms practically inoperable.

Furthermore, the Commission must provide for an additional financial envelope to support EU banana production. We must bear in mind that numerous jobs are at stake in these European regions, which already have record unemployment rates.


  Karel De Gucht, Member of the Commission. Mr President, first of all let me reiterate our appreciation for the rapporteurs and for everybody who has been working on these files.

I will try to give an answer to some specific questions that have been put to me, although not all of them refer to the safeguard mechanism. I was asked where we stand regarding the human, labour and environmental roadmap that the European Parliament requested from Colombia and Peru in its June 2012 resolution. I am fully aware of the importance that you, the European Parliament, attach to this roadmap.

The latest information I have is that Colombia has already presented some preliminary information to the rapporteur for the trade agreement, Mário David, and the rapporteur for the present regulatory safeguards, Bernd Lange, which shows that the country is taking this exercise very seriously. They should be able to present a full roadmap proposal by early October. I also understand that the Colombian Deputy Foreign Minister is to meet Mr Lange to present his country’s plans.

We have less information on where Peru stands, but the Commission is in regular contact with them to underline the fundamental importance of this exercise. I understand that Parliament is also in contact with the Peruvian authorities via your rapporteur.

Secondly, on the banana stabilisation mechanism, which would not provide enough protection for the outermost regions, let me make a few remarks. I know that the outermost regions are especially vulnerable to a sudden increase in imports. That is the reason why we have negotiated specific conditions in order to safeguard their interests. These conditions reflect their particular situation and are based on a model we have previously used. This seems to have given them full reassurance in the past and I trust this will be the case here as well. The special safeguard for the outermost regions will still apply after the transition period has expired, which means after the banana mechanism has been discontinued.

There were also some remarks on how to put it into practice. There I believe it is good practice that the Commission has a margin of appreciation. You could have substitution for example, as was mentioned in the debate, but we take these things very seriously. It is not only on bananas that we could get these kinds of safeguard requests from Member States. For example France has recently made a request to monitor car exports from Korea into the European market. That is a first step in the safeguard that we would obtain by monitoring. If we get such a question we duly research it and only take a decision after having considered all elements of the file. So we are very serious about this, not only where the major economic interests of the European Union are concerned. For example this concerns the economic interests of the outer regions. We will be very scrupulous in doing this.

Turning briefly to the access to the Globalisation Adjustment Fund, I need to be frank with you on the issue of compensation. It is unprecedented for the outcome of the international trade negotiations to be compensated as far as the lost market shares for individual products and farmers are concerned, but I would like to recall that the Commission has made a proposal regarding the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, which the co-legislators are called to decide upon.

Furthermore, the Commission has already examined the consequences of tariff liberalisation comparable to the tariff cuts in the current banana agreement in the context of the reform of the banana common market organisation in 2006. To reflect that, the budgetary allocation for the banana producers in the EU was substantially increased. It would be unsustainable and politically difficult to justify a further increase in the support for the banana producers. The banana producers in the outer regions are the most supported producers in the whole European Union. I can only reiterate that the banana reform, with integration into POSEI, has already included compensation of up to EUR 279 million per year, also for the expected future FTA trade deals, including the ones for Colombia, Peru and Central America. You will agree with me that this is quite a lot of money.


  Bernd Lange, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, we have a huge amount of work ahead of us in the coming three to four months. In accordance with Parliament’s decision, we are going to launch a road map for strengthening workers’ rights, human rights and environmental conditions in Colombia and Peru, while also establishing a safety net for conditions here in the European Union. Neither of these is an easy task. Hence my urgent call on you, Commissioner, to support this work in whatever way you can, particularly with regard to the road map and the involvement of the government in Peru, in order to ensure that we establish a road map for Colombia and Peru within a reasonable timeframe. I get the feeling that the message has not been fully understood there and that people are unaware of just how serious Parliament is about its conditions.

Secondly, Commissioner, I would ask you to please take an active mediator role in relation to the Council in the trialogue on the safeguards, so that we can also implement the safeguard regulations in a reasonable timeframe to ensure that we have both the road map and safeguard regulation in place in good time to enable us to vote on this in November and finally put this matter to bed, in the interests of the people of Europe and the people of Colombia and Peru.


  Jörg Leichtfried, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, this dossier was hard work and took some time to complete. I would like to use my speaking time to thank my colleagues for their excellent cooperation and interesting contribution to discussions, the staff in the secretariat who provided sterling support, as well as my personal assistant who was responsible for the good work done here. Otherwise I have said all I have to say. Thank you very much.


  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 13 September 2012.

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