EU trade relations with Israel

Labour Party

Since I have received a volume of correspondence on the Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (CAA), specifically on the proposed upgrade to trade relations with Israel, I thought it would be helpful to set out Labour MEPs’ views on this blog.

The Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (CAA) is a proposed Protocol to the existing Euro-Mediterranean Agreement and not a separate Agreement in itself, although it has also been referred to as ACAA.

The proposed Protocol is intended to eliminate technical barriers to trade in industrial products between the European Union and the State of Israel. It largely applies to pharmaceutical products, and is intended to align certain assessment standards in order to facilitate trade. In effect this means some of the benefits of the EU internal market would be extended to Israel, and would offer Israeli pharmaceutical companies easier access to the EU market.

Negotiations on the Protocol between the European Commission and Israel began in 2008 and concluded in 2009. The European Parliament was then required in 2010 to give its consent before the Protocol could be adopted. The International Trade committee of the Parliament decided to ‘freeze’ the decision-making process, and the item was not discussed again until 2011 when the procedure was re-started after the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) – the parliamentary grouping which includes the UK Liberal Democrats – changed their position on the dossier.

Many parliamentary groupings in the European Parliament including ALDE and the European Conservatives and Reformists, which includes the UK Conservatives, consider CAA a technical upgrade. The European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP), and the Socialists and Democrat group (S&D) of which we are a member, do not believe it is a technical agreement but rather a clear upgrade of trade relations with Israel which should not be approved.

The EPLP believes all EU external policy, including trade, must be coherent with our human rights policies. Any upgrade of trade relations with Israel in the context of the Gaza blockade and the illegal settlements is unacceptable and incompatible with recent European Parliament declarations denouncing the abuse of human rights in the occupied territories. Furthermore, the EU – Israel Association Agreement requires relations between the EU and Israel to be based on the respect for human rights, and any upgrade to this Agreement would be inappropriate at this time.

The rapporteur (MEP responsible for the dossier) has proposed a two year delay on the Parliament vote in order to allow more time for compliance with international law by Israel. David Martin MEP, EPLP spokesperson for international trade, has raised our concerns over this Protocol several times during discussions in the trade committee, and supports the delay in the vote. You may be interested to see his intervention:

In July the European Parliament formally asked the European Commission for reassurances that goods from the Occupied Territories would not enter the EU under this preferential scheme. David Martin again spoke on behalf of the EPLP to reiterate that although these assurances would be welcome, he is still opposed to the entire Agreement for political reasons. You may be interested in the debate and his intervention here:

Socialist and Democrat MEPs voted in favour of the two year delay in a recent vote in the International Trade committee. However the Protocol was unfortunately adopted by a majority of the liberal and conservative groups. The CAA will now be voted on by the whole European Parliament in its upcoming plenary session in Strasbourg next week.

Labour MEPs will continue to raise our objections to this Protocol and I will, of course, vote in line with my EPLP colleagues.

European Parliament makes strong progress on outlawing counterfeiting

Labour Party

The Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) between the European Union,  Australia,  Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerlandand the USA has been the focus of much attention over the past few weeks.

I have received a number of emails and have been regularly “tweeted” on the issue. Since it is a matter of concern, I have decided to post the following, which I hope will address the points which have been raised.

ACTA must target only commercial and not individual counterfeiters. I am strongly of the view, as are my fellow Labour MEPs, that the need to address serious counterfeiting should not lead to any erosion of civil liberties. In this regard I and other Labour MEPs object to any ‘three strike’ rule whereby Internet service providers can suspend the Internet connection of copyright infringers after two warnings. Equally my colleagues and I do not support so called border measures such as the searching by Customs of travellers’ iPods or laptops for illegally downloaded files.

Labour MEPs also share the frustrations of many constituents who believed the negotiations should have been conducted in a more transparent manner. The European Parliament put significant pressure on the European Commission during the negotiations to increase transparency. The European Commission was successful in persuading other ACTA negotiating partners to release a consolidated negotiating text. While the European Parliament continued to call for the further release of all negotiating texts with individual country positions, we were disappointed that further opening up of the negotiations could not be agreed by all negotiating parties.

The European Parliament now has a formal role in the eventual approval or rejection of this Agreement. The negotiations were concluded in November 2010, and each negotiating party is now in the process of ratifying and signing the Agreement. In the EU this requires agreement from the Council of Ministers (made up of the 27 Member States) and the European Parliament. On Thursday 26th January 2012 twenty-two Member States (including the UK) signed the agreement. The European Parliament will now draft a report to recommend whether or not Parliament should give its approval to the Agreement, and this will be done by the International Trade committee. This is expected to begin next month. Parliament’s political leverage over the European Commission has therefore been substantial given that the Agreement cannot be ratified without Parliament’s approval.

In addition to its legislative role, the European Parliament monitored the negotiations throughout the 11 rounds and adopted Resolutions highlighting our priorities to the Commission. In March 2010 my colleague David Martin MEP – in his capacity as Labour spokesperson on International Trade in the European Parliament – co-authored a Resolution which was adopted by Parliament. In November 2010 in response to the release of the draft text the Parliament again adopted a Resolution.

The European Parliament successfully incorporated several points on transparency and civil liberties into the Resolutions. Firstly we made it clear that the European Commission – as the EU’s negotiator in ACTA – needed to put pressure on the other participants to open up the negotiations to public scrutiny through the publication of a draft negotiating text.

The Parliament also stated that ACTA should not extend beyond the European Community ‘acquis’ or, in other words, no new intellectual property legislation should be created as a result. The European Union is a signatory to various international Agreements on intellectual property such as the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It is important for the European Parliamentary Labour Party that ACTA is consistent with TRIPS and other existing Agreements on Intellectual Property.

You may be interested to read the full resolutions available here: ACTA Plenary Resolution 10 March 2010  and here: ACTA Plenary Resolution 24 November 2010 or watch the debate in which my colleague David Martin spoke: ACTA Plenary debate 9 March 2010

The final text of the Agreement can be read here: Final ACTA text