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Commission launches Access2Markets portal to support trade by small businesses

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The European Commission has launched the Access2Markets online portal to help small and medium-sized firms trade beyond the EU’s borders. The new portal responds to requests from stakeholders to better explain trade agreements and help companies ensure their products are eligible for duty discounts. It will serve both companies that already trade internationally and those that are only starting to explore opportunities in foreign markets.

The new portal was presented today at a high-level, virtual event, 'The road to recovery – empowering small businesses to trade internationally', hosted by Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis and attended by some 600 representatives of small and medium-sized companies.

Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis (pictured) said: “We need to help our companies, in particular our SMEs, to derive maximum benefit from our trade agreements. This is why we have created this new portal to help our smaller companies navigate the world of international trade. This one-stop-shop will help European firms to make the most of the EU’s network of trade agreements and get the best access to the markets, products and inputs they need to grow and to stay competitive.”

The European Union has a large network of trade agreements with over 70 countries and regions and is currently negotiating a raft of new deals. Access2Markets breaks this complex set of rules down into practical information so that smaller firms can have access to relevant information more easily. Concretely, Access2Markets delivers the trading conditions to import goods to the EU and to export goods to over 120 foreign markets.

Small businesses represent 88% of all EU exporters. Their exports account for one third of all EU exports and support 13 million jobs. Global markets are an important source of growth for European small and medium-sized companies. Paying particular attention to small businesses in the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is therefore essential.

“Small businesses are vital to our economy that thrives on the goods and services they provide,” said Véronique Willems, secretary-general of the European association of small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEunited. “SMEunited is pleased to see the launch of the Access2Markets portal. This portal will help small and medium-sized enterprises overcome obstacles to tapping the global market. Providing them with better access to information that is tailored to their needs will be to the benefit of all Europeans.”

The portal allows companies to look up the following details for imported and exported goods, in just a few clicks:

  • Tariffs
  • Taxes
  • Rules of origin
  • Product requirements
  • Customs procedures
  • Trade barriers
  • Trade flow statistics

The new Access2Markets portal also includes explanations, tutorials and FAQs to help new as well as experienced traders analyse the benefits of trade with each of the EU’s trading partners. It provides an overview of EU laws on products and services, as well as contact details for customs and other public authorities in EU member states and in the EU’s trading partners. Businesses can also use the portal to contact DG TRADE to report trade barriers they encounter.

Access2Markets’ self-assessment tool, ROSA, provides special assistance on the rules that define the ‘economic nationality’ of a product, known as ‘rules of origin’. These are tailor-made in every trade deal, making sure that sensitive market sectors are protected and that companies can claim reduced or eliminated customs duties as set in the agreement. Companies can also find information on how trade agreements regulate trade in services or on the conditions to invest, or take part in public calls for tenders in a foreign market.

Every product traded internationally has a code that determines what import duties and national or local taxes need to be paid. On Access2Markets, businesses can find not only the code but also what duties they need to pay in each jurisdiction. The portal’s My Trade Assistant tool enables businesses to look up information on duties, taxes, product rules and requirements on a product-by-product basis for each market.

The portal is optimized for use on smartphones and tablets. It includes a host of additional user-friendly functions to help businessmen and women get the most out of the EU’s trade agreements. And, of course, it is completely free of charge.

EU

Amid France-Turkey row, UK calls on NATO allies to defend free speech

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called on NATO allies to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on values of tolerance and free speech, in a veiled rebuke to Turkey which has been calling for a boycott of French goods, writes Estelle Shirbon.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has urged Turks to stop buying French goods and has accused France of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda. Britain, France and Turkey are all NATO members.

Erdogan is one of several leaders in the Muslim world angry with France over its response to the murder of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad as part of a lesson on free speech.

“The UK stands in solidarity with France and the French people in the wake of the appalling murder of Samuel Paty,” Raab said in a statement. “Terrorism can never and should never be justified.

“NATO allies and the wider international community must stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the fundamental values of tolerance and free speech, and we should never give terrorists the gift of dividing us.”

Paty, a teacher at a state-run school in the far outskirts of Paris, was beheaded on 16 October by a man of Chechen origin. The teacher had been criticised by some in the local community for showing his pupils the cartoons because Muslims view images of the prophet as blasphemous.

The French government, backed by large numbers of citizens, saw the beheading as an attack on free speech and said they would defend the right to display the cartoons.

President Emmanuel Macron called Paty a hero and pledged to fight what he described as Islamic separatism, saying it was threatening to take over some Muslim communities in France.

The reaction to Paty’s murder has caused widespread anger in Muslim countries, where there have been anti-French demonstrations and calls for boycott. France has warned its citizens in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions.

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Customs Union: Commission proposes new ‘Single Window' to modernize and streamline customs controls, facilitate trade and improve co-operation

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The European Commission has proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders, who will be able to submit the information required for import or export of goods only once. The so-called 'EU Single Window Environment for Customs' aims to enhance co-operation and co-ordination between different authorities, in order to facilitate the automatic verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.

The Single Window aims to digitalize and streamline processes, so that businesses will ultimately no longer have to submit documents to several authorities through different portals. The proposal is the first concrete deliverable of the recently adopted Action Plan on taking the Customs Union to the next level.

It launches an ambitious project to modernize border controls over the coming decade, in order to facilitate trade, improve safety and compliance checks, and reduce the administrative burden for companies. Economy Comissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Digitalization, globalization and the changing nature of trade present both risks and opportunities when it comes to goods crossing the EU's borders.

"To rise to these challenges, customs and other competent authorities must act as one, with a more holistic approach to the many checks and procedures needed for smooth and safe trade. Today's proposal is the first step towards a fully paperless and integrated customs environment and better cooperation between all authorities at our external borders. I urge all member states to play their part in making it a true success story.”

The proposal, the press release, the Q&A and the factsheet are available online.

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coronavirus

Merkel plans circuit-break lockdown as German virus cases surge

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Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed regional leaders on Wednesday (28 October) to agree to a partial lockdown in Germany which would see restaurants and bars closed but keep schools open, a draft document seen by Reuters said, write and

The drastic measures, to take effect from 4 November, are aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus in Europe’s biggest economy as the number of new cases hit a record high.

Under the planned new restrictions people would only be able to go out with members of their own and one other household. Fitness studios, discos and cinemas would close, as would theatres, opera houses and concert venues.

Restaurants would only be allowed to offer takeaways, the document said. Shops could remain open if they implement hygiene measures and limit customer numbers.

Merkel will hold a virtual conference with the country’s 16 state premiers later to try to agree the nationwide rules and ditch a confusing patchwork of regional measures.

Almost all regions of Germany face an exponential increase in infection rates, said the document to be discussed, and local health authorities can no longer trace all infections.

“The aim is to interrupt the dynamic of the infection fast so no far-reaching limits on personal contact and economic activity are needed over the Christmas period,” it said.

Germany was widely praised for keeping infection and death rates below those of many of its neighbours in the first phase of the crisis but is now in the midst of a second wave. Cases rose by 14,964 to 464,239 in the last 24 hours, the Robert Koch institute for infectious diseases said on Wednesday.

Deaths jumped by 85 to 10,183, fuelling fears about the health system after Merkel warned on Tuesday it could hit breaking point if infections continue to spiral.

“If we wait until intensive care is full, it is too late,” Health Minister Jens Spahn, who last week tested positive for the virus, told broadcaster SWR.

The government has long insisted it wants to avoid a second blanket lockdown after an initial one this year hit economic growth, with the economy shrinking by a record 9.7% in the second quarter.

While economists expect a rebound for the July-Sept period, they warn that a further lockdown could wipe out growth in the last quarter. Third quarter data is due on 30 October.

Under the plans, the government aims to provide aid to firms hit by closures, including the cultural event sectors.

Only necessary overnight stays would be allowed, according to the document. Brothels, swimming pools, beauty and tattoo studios would close but physiotherapists and hairdressers could stay open. The steps would run until the end of November but are subject to review.

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