EU FTAs & bilateral ties, Internal EU politics, Latest news

State of the Union: von der Leyen announces FTA push

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen pledged to put forward for ratification the EU’s trade agreements with Chile, Mexico, and New Zealand.

During her annual state of the union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, the head of the EU executive also said that current trade negotiations with Australia and India will continue.

“We need to update our links to reliable countries and key growth regions,” von der Leyen told MEPs. “New partnerships will advance not only our vital interests – but also our values.”

Von der Leyen did not provide a timeframe for the ratification processes, but her aim is no doubt to complete them before the end of her mandate in 2024.

The president made no reference the EU-Mercosur trade agreement. The deal concluded in 2019 is currently on hold whilst the commission develops an additional annex for negotiation to address domestic environmental concerns in the Amazon basin.

Many EU member state parliaments, as well as the European Parliament, have said they will not ratify the deal with the South American bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay without such an instrument.

The commission president also made no mention of speeding up negotiations with Indonesia, with whom Brussels has been negotiating a free trade agreement, known as the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, since 2016.

The commission concluded negotiations with Wellington before the summer.

Lawyers are currently in the process of tidying up the text, in a process known as “legal scrubbing” before it can be signed.

The  Chilean government, which came to power in the spring, has identified a number of specific points related to the agreement which was concluded last year.

Brussels and Santiago are now in technical discussions, with the commission still aiming for a political conclusion before the end of the year.

India and the EU relaunched trade negotiations in June with the aim of completing them by the end of 2023, whilst officials expect to finalise talks with Canberra next year.

The EU and Mexico are in consultations on whether to divide up the agreement which was fully finalised in 2020. An EU official said in May that the modernised Association Agreement with Mexico could be signed next year.

In today’s speech von der Leyen also highlighted the EU’s dependence on China when it comes to rare earths and lithium.

She said the commission would be putting forward a European Critical Raw Materials Act which will “identify strategic projects all along the supply chain, from extraction to refining, from processing to recycling. And we will build up strategic reserves where supply is at risk”.

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