European Voice 21.10.2010
Parliament delays vote on free-trade safeguards
MEPs want authority to initiate investigations, arguing that clause to allay industry fears.
By Constant Brand and Toby Vogel
The European Parliament has postponed a vote on attaching safeguards to a free-trade deal between the EU and South Korea because of disagreements with the European Commission and member states.
The vote, which had been postponed once already, was scheduled to take place on Tuesday (19 October), but has now been put off until at least next month’s plenary meeting of the Parliament. Parliament’s approval of the entire free-trade agreement, which had been scheduled for December, could now be delayed.
The Commission and MEPs are at odds over who should have the authority to initiate investigations that could lead to the activation of safeguard measures. Such measures would allow the EU temporarily to suspend the import of certain products if they were found to be undermining domestic EU industries.
The insertion of the clause is supposed to allay fears that imports from South Korea might have disproportionately damaging effects on the automotive and textile industries.
At present, the authority to initiate investigations into the effects of the imports and whether to activate the safeguard clauses rests with the Commission. But the EU’s Lisbon treaty, which took effect in December, has given MEPs new powers over international trade.
The MEPs want the member states, industry associations and the Parliament to be given the authority to initiate investigations.
A report outlining the Parliament’s position, drafted by Pablo Zalba Bidegain, a Spanish centre-right MEP, and approved by the Parliament’s international trade committee in June, called for the Parliament to use its Lisbon treaty powers to demand the right to initiate investigations.
Zalba Bidegain said the Parliament “was not satisfied” with earlier proposals from the Council that denied MEPs such a role. A last round of talks between the Council of Ministers and the Parliament on 6 October failed to produce an agreement. “We are going to keep very firm on this issue,” Zalba Bidegain said.
Robert Sturdy, a UK centre-right MEP who is drafting a report on the trade agreement, said that the Parliament had to “stand up” to make sure industry and member states could call for investigations as well.
Erik Bergelin, director for trade and economics at ACEA, the European carmakers association, said that his group was “grateful” that MEPs were considering “improvements to the way investigations work”. Carmakers have been strong opponents of the deal with South Korea. Bergelin said that the car industry, together with the Commission, was now studying draft CO2 legislation by Korea to determine whether it might constitute a non-tariff barrier to EU exports.
A member state diplomat said that MEPs had “acted responsibly” in postponing the vote because it gave more time for a first-reading agreement to emerge. A Commission official agreed with that assessment. “I feel that we are on track to get this through,” he said. Parliament officials suggested that there was time to find a compromise before the agreement is scheduled to take effect on 1 July.