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EU to chair plurilateral talks to open services markets

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service-sectorEfforts to liberalize trade in services are gaining momentum as the European Union will chair the 6th round of negotiations for the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) which begin today (17 February) in Geneva.

TiSA negotiations aim at opening up markets in services among a diverse group of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) members who are willing to push ahead with liberalisation faster than the general membership of the World Trade Organization. The result will be a plurilateral agreement among a 'coalition of the willing' to open up markets on services ranging from financial services, e-commerce to maritime transport. Participating countries range from the Australia to Paraguay and from Liechtenstein to the US. Of the 51 WTO members round the table, 28 are member states, but the EU is counted as a single participant.

Hosting and chairing the week-long gathering, the EU is keen to ensure that the TiSA is carefully crafted to make it compatible with the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Ensuring the agreement is GATS compatible will not only make it open to other WTO members who wish to join later, but also make it easier to integrate it into the WTO.

Since the talks were launched in March last year, 20 of the participants have tabled offers. Paraguay, Chile, and Pakistan have yet to reveal their hand.

"I'm glad to see we have momentum towards getting a broad-based trade in services agreement. This is excellent news for an ever more important sector of the European economy," said Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

With all but three of the 23 participants having now made their opening bids listing which of their services markets they are prepared to open up and to what degree, there is a feeling of optimism that the talks are on track.

Although the negotiations do not fall under the remit of the WTO, this week's talks have been deliberately scheduled to be back-to-back with regular meetings of the WTO and of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The aim is to increase synergies with and ensure participation of capital-based officials.

This negotiation round will last eight days, with the first three days devoted to discussing the 20 initial offers. During the following five days, negotiators will discuss regulations in specific services sectors. The exchange of offers is seen as a turning point in the efforts to forge an agreement. With members agreeing on the basic text of the agreement provisions and almost all offers on the table, the negotiations are clearly on track.

Six topics have been chosen for detailed discussion: financial services; telecommunication and e-commerce; domestic regulation and transparency; professional services, maritime transport and so-called mode 4, the supply of services by foreign persons. These topics have been chosen because their (co-)sponsors have tabled consolidated texts containing all proposals and comments, paving the way for true draft negotiating texts. Working groups will run in parallel to try to get maximum progress. Participants will exchange views on road transport, competitive delivery services and air transport.

Background

The TiSA negotiations cover all services sectors, including information and communication technology (ICT) services, logistics and transport, financial services and services for businesses. The EU – like the other participants – wants the negotiations to go beyond simply further opening up markets for services. The aim is also to develop new rules on trade in services, such as those applying to government procurement of services, licensing procedures or access to communication networks.

Together, the 51 WTO members (Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, the EU, Hong Kong China, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States) participating in the negotiations represent more than two thirds of world trade in services. For the EU, trade in services is of strategic importance, the sector accounting for some three-quarters of EU gross domestic product (GDP) and of EU jobs. Within the EU, cross-border trade in services accounts for around 30% of EU trade, and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Services (to be covered by the scope of the future agreement) represents around 70% of the EU's FDI flows and around 60% of our FDI stock.

More information

IP/13/118: European Commission proposes to open plurilateral trade negotiations on services, 15 February 2013
MEMO/13/107: Memo - Negotiations for a Plurilateral Agreement on Trade in services
Trade in Services

Brexit

President Sassoli to EU leaders: Help get the budget negotiations moving again

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President Sassoli with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel at the 15 October summit © KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP 

In a speech at the EU summit on 15 October, Parliament President David Sassoli insisted it is now up to EU leaders to unlock the stalled negotiations on the 2021-2027 budget.

President Sassoli urged the EU heads of government to update the negotiating mandate they have given to the German Council presidency to make agreement on the EU long-term budget possible.

He noted that Parliament’s negotiators have asked for an additional €39 billion for key EU programmes that benefit Europeans and promote a sustainable recovery. “This is a paltry sum when set against an overall package worth €1.8 trillion, but one which would make an enormous difference to the citizens who will benefit from our common policies,” President Sassoli said, referring to the total amount of the seven-year budget and the Covid-19 recovery plan.

Sassoli noted that if Parliament’s compromise proposal is accepted by the Council, the budget spending ceiling will have to be raised by only €9 billion and this will bring the ceiling of those programmes to exactly the same level of spending as in the 2014-2020 period in real terms.

He said that the interest payments for the debt that the EU plans to issue to finance the recovery must be counted on top of the programme ceilings so as not to further squeeze the financing of these policies. The recovery plan “is an extraordinary commitment, and therefore the cost of the interest should be treated as an extraordinary expense as well. It should not come down to a choice between these costs and the [budget] programmes”.

The President also stressed the need for a binding timetable for the introduction of new types of budget revenue over the coming years and for flexible provisions in the budget to finance unforeseen future events.

Sassoli defended Parliament’s demand for ambitious emission reduction targets. “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. We need a target, which acts as a bright beacon on the path to climate neutrality. Protecting the environment means new jobs, more research, more social protection, more opportunities.”

“We should use the economic stimuli provided by public institutions to radically change our growth models while guaranteeing a fair transition that works for us and for future generations. No one should be left behind,” he added.

Commenting on the ongoing negotiations on future EU-UK relations, Sassoli expressed concern about the lack of clarity from the UK side. “I hope that our UK friends use the very narrow window of opportunity that remains to work constructively towards overcoming our differences,” he said, adding that the UK should honour its commitments and remove the controversial provisions in its internal market act.

Sassoli also called for a de-escalation of tensions with Turkey. “The Turkish rhetoric is growing increasingly aggressive and the country's intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is certainly not helping matters. Now is the time for the EU to fully support German mediation efforts, to stand united and speak with one voice,” he said.

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Parliament launches the Daphne Caruana Galizia journalism prize

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Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb explosion in October 2017 

The European Parliament has launched a journalism prize in tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist murdered in 2017. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism, launched on the third anniversary of her death, will reward outstanding journalism reflecting EU values.

"The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize will recognize the essential role that journalists play in preserving our democracies and serve as a reminder to citizens of the importance of a free press. This prize is designed to help journalists in the vital and often dangerous work they do and show that the European Parliament supports investigative journalists," said Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala.

Prize money of €20,000

The €20,000 annual prize will be awarded as of October 2021 to journalists or teams of journalists based in the European Union. Candidates and the eventual laureate will be chosen by an independent panel.

Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist, blogger and anti-corruption activist who reported extensively on corruption, money laundering, organised crime, sale of citizenship and the Maltese government’s links to the Panama Papers. Following harassment and threats, she was murdered in a car bomb explosion on 16 October 2017.

The outcry over the authorities’ handling of her murder investigation ultimately prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Critical of failings in the investigation, in December 2019, MEPs called on the European Commission to take action.

Parliament strongly advocates the importance of a free press. In a May 2018 resolution, MEPs called on EU countries to ensure adequate public funding and to promote a pluralist, independent and free media. Parliament has once again underlined the importance of media freedom in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the Facebook live interview about the Daphne Caruana Galizia Journalism Prize.

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coronavirus

Coronavirus risks running out of control in Germany, warns Soeder

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The leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), Markus Soeder (pictured), warned on Wednesday (21 October) that the coronavirus is at risk of spiraling out of control in Germany, writes Paul Carrel.

While Germany’s infection rates are lower than in much of Europe, they have been accelerating and hit a daily record of 7,830 on Saturday, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

“Corona is back with full force ... the second wave is here,” Soeder told the Bavarian state assembly, adding caution and prudence were required.

On Tuesday, residents in the Bavarian district of Berchtesgadener Land went back into lockdown, the first area in Germany to do so since April.

Soeder said he nonetheless wanted to keep open borders with neighbouring countries. Bavaria borders Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic. He was also determined to keep the economy functioning and schools and nurseries open as long as possible.

“Our priority is to avoid a blanket lockdown,” he told the Bavarian state assembly, adding that he would introduce a “dark red” alert level with tougher restrictions for areas in Bavaria that have 100 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days.

Earlier, a spokeswoman for German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was staying in quarantine at home until Oct. 29 after a bodyguard tested positive for the virus.

Steinmeier, whose role is largely ceremonial, has now twice tested negative for the virus, the spokeswoman added.

“There is light on the horizon,” said Soeder. “Of course, the vaccine will come, of course the situation will be very different in spring next year ... There is a tomorrow after corona.”

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