Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the investment policy is an exclusive competence of the European Union. The EU is aiming to include therefore in the new trade and investment agreements provisions on investor protection and investor to state dispute settlement (ISDS) which will replace existing Bilateral Investment Agreements (BIT) signed by Member States and will grant the same level of protection to all EU investors.
International trade is governed by a complex mixture of global rules agreed under World Trade Organization and bilateral and multilateral agreements. The free trade agreements are having a growing impact on citizens' rights. Under the Lisbon Treaty, EU trade policy must be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the Union’s external action, including promotion of the rule of law, human rights and sustainable development.
We believe that this trend should be a guiding principle in EU trade negotiations and in trade relations. The fact that we at the EESC reconcile the positions and views of business, workers, professionals, farmers, consumers and other important stakeholders contributes real added value. We are in a position to efficiently relay the opinions of civil society and interest groups to international policy-makers both during negotiations and in the implementation of trade agreements. We have set up a Follow-up Committee on International trade to ensure that civil society has a say in the shaping of EU trade policy. We are also managing the Domestic Advisory groups set up under the trade and sustainable development chapters of the EU "new generation" trade agreements. These groups, composed of civil society representatives (from inside and outside the EESC) are responsible for identifying trade and sustainable development-related problems in the implementation of a trade agreement.
The EU acknowledges the increasing importance of including the EU and partner countries' companies in the GSCs. It is also emphasised that the current interdependence of the economies may further increase due to the recently negotiated and implemented EU trade and investment agreements, as well as negotiations at the WTO. The EESC also recommends cooperation between international organisations and other relevant stakeholders. This would include adopting a common language and common definitions of elements related to global value chains, GSCs and decent work, and comparison and assessment of the statistical data between the various stakeholders, such as the OECD, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), WTO, the European Commission, the World Bank and IFM. This should help avoid confusion and misinterpretation, and support elaboration of a coherent policy between diverse public bodies involved.
The Commission recently published a Communication on a Renewed Partnership with the ACP Group of countries. ACP-EU relations are currently governed by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that will expire in 2020, therefore the Commission has published recommendations on what the future structure should be. Last year the EESC already drafted a general opinion on the post-Cotonou framework; this new opinion will have to answer specifically to the Commission's communication.
The proposal on an International Procurement Instrument (IPI) is the EU response to the lack of a level playing field in world procurement markets. While our public procurement market is open to foreign bidders, the procurement markets for foreign goods and services in third countries remain to a large extent closed de iure or de facto. The IPI aims at encouraging partners to engage in negotiations and opening participation for EU bidders and goods in third countries' tenders. A first proposal on this issue was made in 2012 (COM(2012) 124 final) but there was no agreement in the Council. The new Commission proposal incorporates some of the changes requested from the European Parliament and tries to reply to some of the concerns expressed in the Council. A number of Member States have expressed reservations as regards the principle of closing the EU market for goods and services originating in certain third countries, even if only temporarily and in a targeted way.
A pro-active mindset in business is needed to open up to increasing flows of data and develop the ability to process big data. Flexible and more adaptable business models must be put in place in the context of the current transformation process.
The Commission should carry out a precise analysis of the state of play and of defensive attitudes to the free flow of data in the Member States in order to remove unjustified barriers by putting the right legal and technical provisions in place. Removing unjustified barriers to free flow of data should be an integral part of a Europe-wide industrial policy. Opening up of national markets should also be covered by the European Semester.
As a matter of principle, contractual freedom in the private sector should be respected. A general EU framework for standards is desirable but standards should in no way hamper innovation. Portability should be promoted.
Draft Opinion on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the safeguard measures provided for in the Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Republic of Iceland (codification)
Opinion on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on common rules for exports (codification)