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Week in Brussels: Trade and Tech Council, Turkey, Renew Europe

This week the European Union’s trade policy jolted back into action after a summer lull. It’s mainly been about setting up meetings and the agenda for the coming months. By Rob Francis and Iana Dreyer.

EU Trade and Tech Council date and setup confirmation

The information was largely in the public domain already but now it’s official: the Trade and Technology Council agreed at the EU-US summit will meet for the first time on 29 September in Pittsburgh in the United States.

The Council will be a combination of ten working groups, flanked by a Joint Technology Competition Dialogue. The ten working groups will cover the following areas: tech standards, climate and clean tech, secure supply chains, ICT security and competitiveness, data governance and platforms, cyber threats and human rights, export controls cooperation, investment screening cooperation, SME access to tech, and “global trade challenges”.

The TTC is, on both sides, a whole-of-government/whole of Commussion effort, led on the EU side by European Commission vice-presidents Valdis Dombrovskis and Margarete Vestager, and on the US side by secretary of state Tony Blinken, Commerce’s Gina Raimondo and USTR Katherine Tai.

Criticisms have already been flaring up about the setup: absence of a foreign affairs representative on the EU side, the fact that the top leadership (i.e. respective Presidents) is not represented, etc.

In any case the EU’s revamped export controls regulation for dual-used items came into force this week. Among others the new rules set up a framework for controls of exports of emerging technologies. Just in time for a dialogue on these matters with the United States.

Commission Turkey trip

EU Turkish political and trade relations remain as rocky as ever but there are efforts to get them back on track. Earlier this week, the Commissioner in charge of the EU’s relations with its neighbours Olivér  Várhelyi met during his two day mission to Ankara Presidential advisor Ibrahim Kalin, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and  trade minister Mehmet Muş, among others.

The EU and Turkey are preparing to launch talks to modernize their customs union. The EU Commission in particular needs to obtain a mandate for negotiations by the member states – and whereas the Council asked for the Commission to come up with such a mandate, it is not clear when nor how this can be obtained.

An official Commission statement reads thus: “In relation to trade issues, Commissioner stressed the expectation that Turkey will continue to take steps to address current trade irritants and ensure the effective application of the Customs Union to all Member States as this would have a positive impact on the parallel work in the Council on the modernisation of the Customs Unions.”

In other words, the Cyprus issue is poisoning the whole dossier – yet again.

Renew Europe political group issues ‘Paris Declaration’ ahead of French EU presidency

The centrist political group Renew Europe met in Paris this week to prepare a joint programme for the next year. The group issued a Paris Declaration.  The whole set up was heavily Macron-government influenced at a time when Paris is preparing its rotating presidency of the EU.

The Paris Declaration’s language on trade goes thus:

“The pandemic has shown that Europe is in some cases too dependent on third countries. It shall become a real power, with the ability to act and decide by and for itself. We promote a Europe that does not shy away from defending our values, interests and standards, within and beyond our borders, while promoting rule-based free trade and fair competition, multilateralism, human rights and sustainable development goals. To this end, we have the courage to adapt our toolbox and change the orientation of industrial, competition, energy, trade, foreign and defence policies.”

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