Tag Archives: EU

Brexit Bill Clears First Parliamentary Hurdle

Photo credit: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The Theresa May government may have lost its Supreme Court Appeal last month but today the Government’s Brexit bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdle. After fourteen hours of debate spread over two days, the House of Commons voted 498 to 114 in favour of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, a bill to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify the UK’s intention to withdraw from the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty).

Article 50(1) of the Treaty on European Union provides for any member state to decide to withdraw from the EU in accordance with that state’s own constitutional requirements. Last month, the UK Supreme Court, in dismissing an appeal by the UK government, held that a parliamentary vote was required in order for the Brexit process to begin. It should be noted that many of the parliamentarians who voted in favour of the Bill’s advancement had originally supported staying in the EU. However, many felt compelled to put aside personal views in order to give effect to the will of the 52% of British voters who had voted for Brexit. Mrs. May has reportedly indicated that she will publish a White Paper outlining the Government’s Brexit plans.

So what’s next?

Today’s House of Commons vote (the second reading) means that the Brexit bill is one step closer to becoming law, and will go to the next stage in the parliamentary process – the Committee Stage. During the committee stage, the Bill will be subjected to more enhanced scrutiny and it is here that any amendments may be made.

Upon leaving the Committee stage, the bill (whether or not amended) will again be debated and subjected to a final vote in the House of Commons. If the ayes have it, then it will pass to the House of Lords where the process will be repeated. The bill will be referred back to the House of Commons if the Peers make amendments to the bill.

However, once everything goes smoothly (i.e. there are no further amendments and the peers vote in favour of the bill), the Brexit bill will be sent to the Queen for the royal assent and thereupon will become law. This confers on the May Government the legal authority to make the Article 50 notification which commences the formal withdrawal negotiations with the EU. Mrs. May has indicated the end of March 2017 as her timeline for the notification. She has also promised that she will put the final withdrawal deal to a parliamentary vote.

The full text of the Brexit bill and further reporting on the UK House of Commons’ vote may be found here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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EU-Canada CETA: Seven Things to Know

Alicia Nicholls

After a week more akin to the nail-biting final minutes of a suspense film, the European Union and Canada have finally signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) today Sunday, October 30, 2016. This sets the stage for the agreement to be provisionally applied.

Here are seven quick things to know about CETA:

  1. CETA is the EU’s first completed  free trade agreement with a G-7 country and its most ambitious trade agreement to date -By numbers, it encompasses over 500 million people (500 million in the EU-28 and  35 million in Canada), 29 countries and 24 languages. Prior to CETA’s signature, trade relations between the EU and Canada were guided by the Framework Agreement for Commercial and Economic Cooperation, in force since 1976 as well as a number of sectoral agreements.
  2. Canada was the EU’s 11th largest trading partner in 2015 – This is according to EUROSTAT data as at April 2016 which valued Canada-EU trade in 2015 at 63,479 million euro, accounting for 1.8% of EU trade with non-EU partners. On the flip side, the EU is second only to the United States as Canada’s largest  trading partner. According to Statcan data, Canada exported $39,454.8 million ($CAN) in goods to the EU in 2015 and imported $53.004.5 in the same period.
  3. CETA was several years in the making –  Negotiations between the EU and Canada began in 2009 and the text was concluded in 2014 and received legal approval in February 2016. However,the agreement has had to overcome several hurdles, including the fact that as a “mixed” agreement under EU law, it had to obtain the approval of each of the 28 EU member countries (in accordance with their own constitutional arrangements). There has been popular and political opposition to the Agreement, including the impasse between the Belgium Federal Government and the regional government of Wallonia which had threatened  to be the final nail in the coffin until a last minute internal deal saved the day. Despite the resolution of this political impasse, some popular dissent towards the Agreement remains as evidenced by the anti-CETA protests.
  4.  Almost 99% of tariffs will be eliminated on goods trade between the EU and Canada – The exceptions are a few sensitive agricultural products. However, tariff-eliminations are only a small part of CETA and the Agreement is WTO-plus in many aspects. It includes provisions on trade in services, investment,  sustainable development, labour, environment, inter alia. It also opens up the procurement market in the EU and Canada so businesses in those countries can bid on government contracts in each other’s countries.
  5. CETA provides for a novel Investment Court System – The permanent bilateral investment tribunal provided for in CETA’s Investment Chapter (Chapter 8) is a marked departure from the ad hoc tribunals used in traditional investor-state dispute settlement systems. The tribunal will be comprised of 15 members (five EU nationals, five Canadian nationals and five nationals of third states). In addition to this new ISDS system, the investment chapter provides more explicit language regarding the State’s right to regulate, an appellate tribunal, greater provisions on transparency of proceedings and conflict of interests, as well as commitment by the EU and Canada towards the shared objective of working towards the establishment of a permanent multilateral investment court which will replace the bilateral court under CETA.
  6. CETA is expected to boost income in both the EU and Canada. According to a 2008 joint study by the European Commission and the Government of Canada, conducted prior to the launch of the negotiations, it was found that the annual real income gain  within seven years of CETA’s implementation is to be an estimated  11.6 billion euros for the EU and 8.2 billion euros for Canada. The stated benefits of CETA are job creation, a liberalised procurement market and increased merchandise and services trade and investment flows between Canada and the EU and cheaper goods and services for consumers.
  7. CETA will be the benchmark for future agreements signed by both the EU and Canada with subsequent trade partners.  The standard of ambition in the Agreement is high. CETA is likely to be the last trade agreement signed by the UK as an EU-member before the UK is expected to make its Article 50 notification and BREXIT negotiations begin (slated for March 2017).

The full text of the Agreement may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

EU-Canada CETA trade deal hangs in the balance

Alicia Nicholls

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiated between the European Union (EU) and Canada appears to be in limbo as Belgium’s French-speaking Walloon region has said a strident non (no in French) to the deal. According to media reporting, two key issues appear to be sticking points for the Walloon government. Firstly, there are concerns about potential increased pork and beef imports from Canada which they believe would be disadvantageous to Walloon farmers. Secondly, there is disagreement about the investment court system mechanism proposed for the settlement of investor-state disputes which they argue is tilted in favour of investors and would infringe on states’ rights to regulate.

The other 27 EU countries (including the UK) have indicated their willingness to sign and so does the Belgium government. So how is it that a Belgium region of roughly 3.6 million out of a total EU population of 500 million could potentially veto a trade agreement which took in essence seven years to negotiate? The CETA is a mixed agreement which means that it requires signature and ratification by each EU member state in accordance with its own constitutional requirements. Under Belgium’s constitutional arrangements, each of that country’s regions must give its consent to the national government  to sign any trade agreement. The Walloon Government has declined to give its consent to the Belgium government to sign the CETA. This has given rise to the quandary now being faced.

The CETA is the EU’s most ambitious free trade agreement to date with a third party. It not only seeks to eliminate customs duties on all industrial goods and on most agricultural and food products, but covers trade in services, intellectual property, government procurement, investment, inter alia. The negotiations were officially completed in September 2014. The text has been legally reviewed but only becomes binding once the Agreement has entered into force.

CETA’s investment chapter is novel as it establishes a permanent investment court which would hear disputes brought by investors, allows for greater transparency in proceedings, defines more narrowly the circumstances under which investors can bring claims, includes an express right of states to regulate and includes an appeal system. This new system is a marked departure from the traditional ISDS system found in old school BITs and in investment chapters of most FTAs like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). CETA will replace the 8 bilateral investment treaties that currently exist between individual EU states and Canada and under which claims by investors were heard by ad hoc arbitration panels. The provisions in these BITs were tilted heavily in favour of the investor and lacked language protecting states’ regulatory rights. It should be noted that Belgium and Canada do not have a BIT.

This current showdown between Wallonia on the one hand, and the rest of the EU and Canada on the other is just the latest episode in the drama playing out between free trade and the rising anti-trade populism and consequent political opposition sweeping across western countries. For example, US ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership remains held up in the US Congress and whether it is indeed ratified is not a certainty given the rhetoric of both major presidential candidates. With regard to CETA itself, this is not the first hurdle the agreement has faced as earlier this year Bulgaria and Romania had raised objections to the agreement over Canada’s failure to remove visa requirements for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals.

The Monday deadline has been missed and it is the first time that one region in an EU country has threatened to derail a negotiated outcome with a third state, a prospect which is not just frustrating for EU leaders and Canada but raises questions about the reliability of the EU as a negotiating partner seeing that this agreement is with a western country with similar values on trade.

To this effect, Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, is reported as stating as follows:

“Canada has worked, and I personally have worked very hard, but it is now evident to me, that the European Union is incapable of reaching an agreement — even with a country with the European values such as Canada, even with a country as nice and patient as Canada.”

Another question is what does this state of affairs mean for the future BREXIT negotiations once the UK makes its Article 50 notification? Some commentators had previously argued that CETA might have been a suitable model for future EU 27-UK relations as it does not involve the free movement of labour. This issue was raised by EU Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, who is quoted in media reports as saying “If we can’t make it with Canada, I’m not sure we could make it with the UK.”

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

WTO Panel rules in Argentina’s favour in EU Biodiesel Anti-dumping Case

Alicia Nicholls

A World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute settlement body panel has ruled primarily in Argentina’s favour regarding anti-dumping measures imposed by the EU on Argentine biodiesel exports to the EU. Inter alia, the panel found that the EU had contravened the Anti-dumping Agreement and the GATT 1994 by failing to calculate the cost of production of the product on the basis of the records kept by Argentine producers, and by imposing anti-dumping duties in excess of the margins of dumping that should have been established per the Anti-dumping Agreement and the GATT 1994.

Background

The dispute (DS473) European Union – Anti-dumping Measures on Biodiesel from Argentina surrounds two EU measures regarding biodiesel imports from Argentina and Indonesia, namely:

  • Article 2(5), second subparagraph, of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1225/2009 of 30 November 2009 on protection against dumped imports from countries not members of the European Community (the Basic Regulation)
  • Anti-dumping measures imposed by the European Union on imports of biodiesel originating in Argentina and Indonesia.

The EU’s anti-dumping measures were implemented following an investigation by the European Commission after the European Biodiesel Board (EBB), which represents the interests of EU biodiesel producers, lodged a complaint on July 17, 2012, for anti-dumping against biodiesel imports from Argentina and Indonesia. The  EBB has argued that Argentine and Indonesian biodiesel producers were selling biodiesel at artificially low prices in the EU market thereby putting the EU biodiesel industry at a disadvantage, compromising jobs in the industry and the industry’s ability to contribute to sustainable green transport in the EU.

In January 2013, the Commission made Argentine and Indonesian biodiesel imports in the EU subject to registration. Following its investigation, the Commission imposed provisional anti-dumping duties on May 29, 2013 and definitive anti-dumping duties on 27 November 2013. In the Definitive Regulation No 1194/2013, it was calculated that the injury margins ranged from 41.9% to 49.5% . The EU applied anti-dumping duties of 22.0% to 25.7% which took the form of specific duties expressed as a fixed amount in euro/tonne.

Argentina, one of the world’s largest exporters of biodiesel, argued that the EU’s measures were protectionist and aimed at protecting inefficient European biodiesel producers. It has been reported in Argentine media that the measures are estimated to have cost Argentina almost the equivalent of 1,600 million dollars worth in biodiesel exports annually.

The Dispute

In December 2013, Argentina requested consultations with the EU and requested that a panel be established in March 2014. A panel was established in April 2014.

Argentina based its claims on various articles of the Anti-Dumping Agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994 and the WTO Agreement, arguing that “as applied” the EU’s measures were inconsistent with various articles of these agreements. Argentina also asked the Panel to find that Article 2(5), second subparagraph of the Basic Regulation was  “as such” inconsistent with Articles 2.2, 2.2.1.1 and 18.4 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement, Article VI:1(b)(ii) of the GATT 1994, and Article XVI:4 of the WTO Agreement.

“As such inconsistent”, basically means that the measure is inconsistent in and of itself and is not solely inconsistent because of its application in a specific instance. “As such” challenges are therefore “serious challenges” as noted by the Appellate Body in US – Oil Country Tubular Goods Sunset Reviews particularly given the presumption that WTO Members act in good faith in the implementation of their WTO commitments.

Additionally, the ruling’s contribution to the WTO’s body of jurisprudence should not be overlooked. As noted by the panel, Argentina’s claims “raise[d] complex questions pertaining to the interpretation of Articles 2.2 and 2.2.1.1 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement and Article VI:1(b)(ii) of the GATT 1994 that have not been addressed previously by panels or the Appellate Body”.

Ruling

In its panel report released yesterday (March 29), the panel found in favour of most of Argentina’s complaints. However, the Panel found that Argentina did not establish that Article 2(5), second subparagraph of the Basic Regulation was “as such” inconsistent with Articles 2.2.1.1 and 2.2 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement and Article VI:1(b)(ii) of the GATT 1994.The Panel also rejected  Argentina’s claim that the amount for profits established by the EU authorities (15% on turnover) was not based on a reasonable method  within the meaning of Article 2.2.2(iii) and also rejected Argentina’s claim that the EU had failed to meet the “fair comparison” requirement under Article 2.4 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement.

However, the Panel did find in Argentina’s favour on several key issues. Argentina claimed that the EU had failed to calculate the cost of production of biodiesel on the basis of the records kept by the producers/exporter under investigation and had therefore acted inconsistently with Article 2.2.1.1 of the Anti-dumping Agreement.

Article 2.2.1.1. of the Anti-dumping Agreement provides that:

For the purpose of paragraph 2, costs shall normally be calculated on the basis of records kept by the exporter or producer under investigation, provided that such records are in accordance with the generally accepted accounting principles of the exporting country and reasonably reflect the costs associated with the production and sale of the product under consideration.

One of the issues the Panel had to consider was whether an investigating authority’s belief that a producer/exporter’s records reflect costs that are artificially low due to an alleged distortion constitutes a legally sufficient ground under Article 2.2.1.1. for that authority to find that a producer/exporter’s records do not “reasonably reflect the costs associated with the production and sale of the product under consideration”.

The EU authorities had argued that Argentina’s Differential Export Tax had artificially depressed the domestic price of soybeans and soybean oil (the inputs for Argentina’s biodiesel) and had distorted Argentine producers’ production costs.  They argued that this cost distortion should be taken into account in constructing Argentine producers’ normal value and chose  to rely on the average reference price of soybeans published by the Argentine Ministry of Agriculture for export as opposed to the actual price for soybeans reported in the Argentine producers/exporters’ records.

The panel found that the EU’s argument for ignoring the producers’ costs  did not constitute a legally sufficient basis  for arguing that the producers’ records do not reasonably reflect the producers’ costs as required per Article 2.2.1.1 of the Anti-dumping Agreement.Because of its ruling on Article 2.2.1.1, the Panel did not see it necessary to rule on whether as a consequence, the EU had acted inconsistently with Article 2.2 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement and Article VI:1(b)(ii) of the GATT 1994 in this regard.

The Panel also found that the EU did not use a cost that was the cost prevailing in the country of origin (i.e. Argentina) in the construction of the normal value and had therefore acted inconsistently with Article 2.2 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement and Article VI:1(b)(ii) of the GATT 1994.

The Panel ruling also supported Argentina’s claim that the EU had imposed anti-dumping duties in excess of the margin of dumping per Article 2 of the Anti dumping argument and had therefore also acted inconsistently with Article 9.3 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement and Article VI:2 of the GATT 1994.

The Panel upheld Argentina’s claim finding that as it relates to production capacity and capacity utilisation, the EU had acted inconsistently with Articles 3.1 and 3.4 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement. However, the Panel ruled that Argentina’s claims with respect to the EU authorities’ evaluation of return on investments fell outside of the Panel’s terms of reference.

The Panel concluded that “to the extent that the measures at issue have been
found to be inconsistent with the Anti-Dumping Agreement and the GATT 1994, they have nullified or impaired benefits accruing to Argentina under these agreements”. Pursuant to Article 19.1 of the DSU, the Panel recommended that the EU bring its measures into conformity with its obligations under the Anti-Dumping Agreement and the GATT 1994.

Both parties have 60 days in which to file an appeal against the panel’s decision.

Indonesia, which was also affected by these EU measures, was one of the third parties to this dispute. Indonesia also currently has a dispute pending against the EU on this matter (DS480 :  EU – Anti-dumping measures on biodiesels from Indonesia).

A summary of the panel report and  the full panel report may be accessed on the WTO’s website here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Summary Report of Public Consultation on Future of ACP-EU Relations Released

Alicia Nicholls

The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group and the European Union (EU) are currently in a period of reflection on the future and form of ACP-EU cooperation post the expiration of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) in 2020. The EU launched a public consultation “Towards a New Partnership between the EU and the ACP Countries after 2020” which took place between 6 October to 31 December 2015. Last Monday, the European Commission released its summary report of this public consultation.

A wide variety of stakeholders submitted responses, including the ACP Young Professionals Network whose response may be viewed here. Public authorities/ international organisations was the largest category of shareholder which sent responses, followed by civil society organisations.

As part of the ACP group, CARIFORUM countries have enjoyed a privileged relationship with the EU for the past four decades. The EU is a major trade, investment and development partner for CARIFORUM countries and it is in the region’s best interest to ensure that any new framework for EU-ACP engagement takes into account the region’s interests and concerns.

It is therefore quite unfortunate that there was such poor representation of CARIFORUM stakeholders among those which submitted responses as part of the joint consultation. Of the 103 responses received, only one came from a stakeholder within a CARIFORUM state – Jamaica.  The overwhelming majority of non-EU responses were from entities based in African countries.

Key points from the Summary Report

It was noted in the summary report that the major problem highlighted by respondents was “the difficulty to attribute progress or lack thereof specifically to the CPA framework or to EU policy as a whole”.
Some of the other key points noted in the summary report are that:
  • Respondents were generally of the opinion that the Cotonou Partnership has had a positive contribution to human and social development, including poverty reduction. However, opinions seem divided on its contribution towards sustainable and inclusive economic development.
  • Respondents, however, had a more critical opinion of the CPA’s effectiveness with respect to several other areas, including private sector development and foreign direct investment.
  • Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was the main priority put forward in regards to the future of joint ACP-EU relations, with private sector development, improved business environment and business promotion being identified as priorities in the framework of sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
  • With respect to the future form of ACP-EU collaboration, a large majority of respondents favoured a stronger role for civil society actors and the private sector.
The full summary report may be accessed here.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.