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Free Trade Agreements between the European Union and Columbia and Peru: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 865 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton] Negotiations on this free trade agreement were opened in 2007 and the agreement was signed in Brussels on 26 June 2012 and ratified by the European Parliament in December 2012. The agreement is already in operation, as it has been provisionally applied with Peru since 1 March 2013 and with Colombia since 1 August 2013.

  All EU member states, including Ireland, are signatories to this agreement in their own right. This means that the agreement requires ratification by all member states as well as the EU. EU member states ratify the agreement according to their own domestic requirements. Today's motion in Dáil Éireann, approving the terms of the agreement, is necessary to complete Ireland's internal legal procedures. So far, 19 member states have ratified the agreement, so Ireland is one of the remaining few yet to ratify it formally.

  The agreement with Peru and Colombia is the first of these new generation free trade agreements to be concluded with South American countries. This is a multi-party agreement and it will be followed by one dealing with Ecuador and possibly other nations in the region. There are significant and realistic opportunities for trade and partnership between Ireland and South America. South America offers huge markets, which represent great opportunities for Irish companies. This is vital for the Government's efforts to increase export activity in line with the Government trade strategy and the Action Plan for Jobs.

  The trade agreement between the EU and Colombia and Peru establishes the conditions that will open markets on both sides and increase the stability of the trade relationship that was worth €21.1 billion in bilateral trade in goods in 2011. As well as the elimination of tariffs, the agreement will improve transparency by enhancing communication and co-operation in the area of technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment. Given the relative size of our economies, the economic and social impact of the agreement in Colombia and Peru will by far outweigh, in relative terms, the benefits it will generate for the EU, which can, in turn, contribute to the development of more equitable, just and stable societies. According to an independent study, this agreement could boost Colombian GDP by 1.3% and Peruvian GDP by 0.7% in the long term. Trade is expected to grow significantly as the agreement's provisions take effect and there is evidence already of increased interest in export opportunities by Irish companies wishing to enter the Colombian market. For Europe, and for Ireland in particular, the agreement provides access to a growing market the size of Germany with a reduction of tariffs and appropriate protection for intellectual property. Our combined total goods exports to Colombia and Peru were €61 million in 2013, the bulk of them in computers and computer products, medical and pharmaceutical devices and infant formula.

  Turning to the agreement itself, it comprises 14 titles, 14 annexes, 24 appendices and two joint declarations. Title 1 contains the initial provisions which define the objectives and scope of the agreement and the obligations of parties to the agreement. Chapter 1 contains the essential elements of the agreement, and these include the general principles of respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights, as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and for the principle of the rule of law, which underpins the internal and international policies of the parties. This provision of the agreement specifically provides that respect for these principles constitutes an essential element of the agreement. The significance of this is that, if one party breaches the essential elements, the other party is entitled to adopt proportionate measures without delay. Such measures could include the termination of the agreement.

  Title 2 contains the institutional provisions under the agreement. It provides for the establishment of the trade committee, its functions, decision-making powers and specialised sub-committees. The eight sub-committees are market access, agriculture, technical obstacles to trade, customs, trade facilitation and rules of origin, government procurement, trade and sustainable development, sanitary and phytosanitary measures and intellectual property. The first meeting of the trade committee was held on 16 May 2014 in Lima. This committee will meet once a year on a rotational basis. Each sub­committee has also held one meeting in 2014.

  Title 3 covers trade in goods and contains provisions on market access for goods, trade remedies, customs and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary or SPS measures, movement of goods and exceptions. It also defines the role and functions of five of the sub-committees, which are those relating to market access, agriculture, technical barriers to trade, customs, trade facilitation and rules of origin, and sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

  Title 4 deals with trade in services, establishment and e-commerce, and it sets out provisions, including those relating to market access, through establishment by investors, cross-border supply of services, temporary presence for business purposes and domestic regulation for sectors, including e-commerce, computer services, financial services, maritime transport services and telecommunications services. There is also provision for a sub-committee to manage the commitments under this title.

  Title 5 includes standard EU provisions concerning current and capital account movements. Title 6 contains the provisions covering government procurement and includes the role and functions of the sub-committee on government procurement under the agreement. Title 7 covers intellectual property, the stated objectives of which are to promote innovation and creativity and facilitate the production and commercialisation of innovative and creative products, and to achieve an adequate and effective level of protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights that contributes to transfer and dissemination of technology and favours social and economic welfare and the balance between the rights of the holders and the public interest. The role and functions of the sub-committee on intellectual property are also provided for under this title.

  Title 8 covers competition and ensures that operators will benefit from an open, fair and reliable competition environment in which the parties are required to ban, through their national and regional legislation, the most harmful anti-competitive practices, including restrictive agreements, cartels and abuse of dominance.

  Title 9 contains the important trade and sustainable development provisions, which promote the pursuit of social and environmental protection policies and offer adequate guarantees to ensure the EU's trade policy works in favour of sustainable development. There are firm commitments to implement core labour standards effectively, as contained in the International Labour Organization fundamental conventions, and to implement eight key environmental international conventions. This legally binding sustainable development title includes provisions on labour and the mechanisms through which civil society groups, including trade unions and non-governmental organisations, can participate, raise concerns and express views. The parties to the agreement are obliged to review and consider these views.

  In addition, there are domestic advisory groups composed of civil society representatives that must be consulted and which can also make recommendations on their own initiative. There is provision for regular intergovernmental meetings. These meetings must include an open session where civil society organisations and citizens can directly raise issues. All decisions or reports from these intergovernmental meetings must be public. This title establishes a specific arbitration system to deal with disagreements on the implementation of its provisions. An independent group of experts can be requested to assess the signatories' fulfilment of their obligations and to issue public reports on the basis of which an action plan or other corrective action is to be implemented. The provisions of this title of the agreement are managed by a trade and sustainable development sub-committee, the functions of which are set out under this title. The sub-committee met for the first time on 6 February 2014 and the next meeting is planned to take place during the first half of this year.

  Title 10 covers transparency and administration procedures. This includes increased transparency regarding laws, regulations, judicial decisions, procedures and administrative rulings. Title 11 deals with the general exceptions and title 12 deals with a state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism. Title 13 deals with technical assistance and trade capacity building. Title 14 sets out the final provisions and includes the annexes, appendices, declarations and footnotes in the agreement.

  I wish to say a few words more about human rights, which are a matter of particular concern for us all in this House, especially in the case of Colombia. Before doing so, however, let me note the context in which these issues are addressed. Colombia is in the process of emerging from a prolonged civil war in the course of which the most egregious human rights abuses have been committed by parties across the board. Displacement and dispossession, sustained terrorism from the right and the left, organised crime and the drugs trade have blighted the lives of too many Colombians for much of this period. Very significant progress has been made and continues to be made. Colombia has pulled itself back from the brink of failed state status and democracy has been restored and is functioning.

  The Colombian Government accepts the importance of respect for human rights and is seeking to advance them through the necessary reforms. Negotiations on a peace agreement, initiated by President Santos - recently re-elected - between the Government side and FARC, the main guerrilla group, are ongoing in Havana. We strongly support these developments and, in particular, encourage all parties to a speedy and comprehensive peace agreement. In case anyone doubts either the link between the prospects for peace and the prospects for improved respect for human rights in Colombia or the commitment of the Colombian Government in this regard, let me recall last year's report to the General Assembly by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in Colombia. The High Commissioner:

commends the government of Colombia for its determined pursuit of a negotiated end to the armed conflict and the ongoing efforts made to meet its international human rights obligations. Many human rights violations linked to the internal armed conflict could be ended or greatly reduced if the progress made in the peace negotiations leads to well-conceived and implemented peace accords. An end to hostilities would also create a unique opportunity to address human rights more broadly.


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