Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
As we all know, a dynamic and opening trading policy is vital for the country with and through the European Union. Will the Tánaiste and the Ministers of State present give a report on the recent trade Council meeting of European trade ministers?
The EU trade ministers met in person in Council on 20 May in Brussels. I was pleased to participate in my capacity as Minister with responsibility for trade. The meeting had a full agenda, which included debate and draft conclusions on the EU trade policy review, preparations for the World Trade Organization ministerial conference later this year, EU-US trade relations, updates on the EU steel safeguards and the EU Mercosur agreement and progress with the negotiations on an EU international procurement instrument.
We discussed the Union's contribution to the reform of the World Trade Organization and preparations for the next Ministerial Conference, known as MC12. This is scheduled to take place from 30 November to 3 December this year. MC12 will chart the course of work for the member-led organisations for the succeeding 18 to 24 months.
Ministers and the European Commission, which lead the international trade negotiations for the European Union 27, agreed that we would seek to play a leadership role in pursuing outcomes on a range of files, including trade and health and trade and sustainability as well as a roadmap for urgent reform of the World Trade Organization. The restoration of the dispute settlement function is an objective for Ireland.
We debated EU-US trade relations and the prospect for a more positive transatlantic relationship with the new US Biden-Harris administration. We focused on progress in resolving the transatlantic trade disputes relating to Airbus and Boeing as well as steel and aluminium disputes, which are adversely affecting several sectors in Ireland given our strong trade volumes with the US. I believe Ireland can act as a bridge between the US and Europe in solving some of these issues.
We held separate discussions with the US trade representative, Katherine Tai, by videoconference and the new WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in person. While held in private, the meetings encouraged me to believe that we are back on a pathway to restoring the WTO to the heart of a multilateral rules based international order when it comes to trade. The US is seeking to work in partnership with the EU again to make that happen and to remove barriers to open rules-based free trade, especially insofar as anti-competitive practices by non-market economies are concerned.
I am encouraged to hear the Tánaiste's response in respect of the clear shift in the global approach to trade following the change of administration in the USA, especially the opportunities presented by a closer trading relationship between the EU and the US. We should acknowledge that the EU member state set to proportionately benefit the most from a closer trading and investment relationship is, of course, Ireland. It is good to see the WTO put back at the heart of global trade. It is vital for a rules-based democracy like Ireland and a rules-based union like the European Union.
Is it possible to give an update on negotiations or pre-negotiations between the EU and other third party countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia? I fundamentally believe those markets provide great opportunities for Irish exporters, especially in the wake of Brexit.
The Deputy's initial comments are spot on. If we can restore and improve the EU-US trading relationship, deal with some of the issues around steel and aviation and so on and get on with building a stronger trading relationship, then one of the countries that will benefit from that most is, of course, our country, Ireland. That is because of our strong trading links with the US and our political position as a country at the heart of the European Union and close to America.
At the meeting there was not much focus on trade relations with other third countries like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore or Malaysia. Progress is being made but it is pretty slow. Talks are under way with Australia and New Zealand. There are sensitivities because these are big agricultural economies. There are real sensitivities about opening up European markets to agricultural imports for reasons the Deputy will understand. There are also environmental concerns relating to Australia. We very much support trade and investment agreements with those countries if they can be made.
I will use this opportunity to pivot to discussions on transatlantic trade opportunities, given that was the main focus, and the opportunity to have the US trade representative contribute via videoconference. All these things present great opportunities for the European Union as a whole. The Tánaiste talks understandably about the logjams in respect of the steel sector and aviation. It is not necessarily a big issue for Irish manufacturers but a closer US-EU trade relationship matters. I do not imagine we will get back to the resurgence of transatlantic trade and investment partnership or some formal trade agreement at this stage, but I would appreciate if the Tánaiste could lay out the strategy for Irish trade with North America in light of the positive trade council and the sectors where we could look, post-pandemic, to stress our ability to export to the United States. Maybe we could get trade missions going where there are great opportunities for workers throughout the country.
I think the Deputy's assessment is correct. We are unlikely to be getting back to something like TTIP anytime soon. However, we are on a better path now with the USA. No matter what happens at EU level, Ireland will continue to seek investment from the US. It goes both ways now. Nearly 100,000 Americans are employed in Irish owned firms in America. That has been the big change in the past ten years.
It is very much a two-way relationship now in investment and trade. We fully endorsed the EU's approach to EU-US trade relations. That was set out in the new EU-US agenda for global change that involves stronger multilateral action and institutions, the pursuit of common interests and leveraging the collective strength of the Union and the US, and looking for solutions that respect the common values of fairness, openness and competition. We also proposed to the ambassador, Katherine Tai, that we should establish an EU-US trade technology council, and the ambassador has said she will give this consideration.