Coronavirus response, European Parliament, Latest news

European Parliament adopts its views on post COVID-19 trade

The European Parliament repeated – among others its call for a constructive dialogue on a temporary waiver from the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and criticised ongoing export restrictions by vaccine producing countries, including the EU, in a report adopted on Tuesday evening (6 July 2021).

The non-legislative resolution on the ‘trade-related aspects and implications of COVID-19’ put together by Belgian socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt was adopted with 509 votes for and 63 against.

Call for globally equitable access to health products

MEPs said that inequitable access to COVID-19 essential health products “risk exacerbating a dangerous North-South divide” and said that a temporary waiver would ensure that countries “do not face retaliation over COVID-19 related patent infringements during the pandemic.”

The resolution states that this should go “hand in hand with a commitment to revisit the TRIPS agreement and its flexibilities, in order to make it better fit for purpose for future pandemics.”

“Post-COVID-19 recovery gives us a unique opportunity to make value chains fair, resilient and sustainable: respecting human rights, labour rights and environmental standards are key for a future proof European trade,” Van Brempt told Borderlex after the vote.

The European Parliament has consistently come out on the side of a waiver in previous votes, although each time previously the vote has been close, and opinion seems to be split down the middle of the house.

A week after the European Commission took the decision to extend its export authorisation and transparency mechanism, Parliamentarians took last night’s vote as an opportunity to reaffirm that the measure is “temporary… only to be used as a last resort.”

The resolution expresses concern that export restrictions in general “might endanger the rapid global scaling up of vaccine production capacity, disrupt production chains and lead to retaliation.”

MEPs also call for a Committee on Trade and Health to be established at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) at the end of November to “prepare guidelines on how governments can implement existing exceptions and flexibilities in international trade law to increase public health security, and what mechanisms must be put in place to improve the global response to health emergencies and to lay the groundwork for a trade pillar for the negotiations on a future international treaty on the pandemic response.”

‘Fundamental overhaul’ of EU Mercosur agreement

The resolution also touches on sustainability i.e. labour and environmental standards. It stressing that ‘trade and sustainable development chapters’ in the EU’s free trade agreements are “an integral part of trade policy”. The text says these chapters should include provisions regarding animal welfare, fair trade, and the circular economy, and calls for a “fundamental overhaul” of the EU-Mercosur agreement. It also calls for the conclusion of the fisheries subsidy negotiations at MC12.

In her statement Van Brempt said that the EU’s trade policy must “fully embody the ambition of the EU Green Deal, making sustainable development provisions sanction-based with the possibility to withdraw trade preferences, while engaging with partners to strengthen the global fight against climate change and supporting developing countries in a sustainable transition.”

The need for “fair, resilient and sustainable value chains that respect human rights, labour rights and environmental standards” is also emphasised.

In this context, the Resolution states that EU-China relations “require a more balanced and reciprocal approach” and argues that ratification of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) can only proceed once the EU has decided how to “counter market-distorting practices and to defend strategic EU interests, including a ban on products made using forced labour, an upgraded trade defence toolbox and a working sanctions mechanism on human rights.”

“We will not give free entry passes to our house to those who don’t play by the rules,” said Van Brempt.

“That’s why Europe needs to be at the forefront of re-strengthening multilateral and rule-based trade: a reinvigorated WTO rulebook and a revived dispute settlement body must bring a new wind in rules-based international relations and set trade policy on its way for the 21st century.”

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