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Sumario: 12 January 2010, Brussels – Karel De Gucht of Belgium, the Commissioner-designate for trade, was questioned about the Doha development talks, free trade agreements and non-tariff trade barriers during his hearing on Tuesday morning at the European Parliament. Members of Parliament (MEPs) also asked how the EU's new External Action Service would link in with his portfolio and what measures he planned to take against counterfeiting and dumping.
"Free trade must be a tool to generate prosperity, stability and development", said Mr De Gucht in his opening statement, calling himself a "longstanding supporter" of "open markets backed up by a rules-based international trading system", which, however, should not be "goals in themselves". He stressed that unfair trade practices or protectionism by trading partners should not be accepted and that trade must serve the EU's broader policy goals.
Strengthening the multilateral trading system
Mr De Gucht's priorities, he said, were: to further strengthen the multilateral trading system; to deepen trade and investment links, in particular with India, Canada, Ukraine, Latin America and Euromed; to take to a higher level the economic cooperation with the US and China; to successfully conclude the Economic Partnership Agreements with ACP countries; and to ensure that European companies were treated fairly and given opportunities to expand their businesses.
De Gucht defended the free trade agreement with South Korea as a "good deal" that would benefit EU's economy.
He believed his experience as a Member of the European Parliament for 15 years, as Belgian foreign affairs and trade minister and as EU development Commissioner had equipped him with the skills needed for his new position.
An independent common trade policy
Daniel Caspary (EPP, DE) and Metin Kazak (ALDE, BG) asked the Commissioner-designate how he could ensure that the common trade policy remained independent of other external relation issues. Mr De Gucht said international trade, "by its nature" as an exclusive EU competence, would keep its independence and would not form part of the new External Action Service. However, good cooperation with the EAS would be essential, he added.
To a question by Kader Arif (S&D, FR), the Commissioner-designate promised to ensure a broader and faster flow of information from the Commission to Parliament about the current state of trade negotiations. He emphasised that he would fully respect Parliament's co-legislator role stemming from the Lisbon Treaty and he pointed out that free trade agreements would be subject to the EP's consent.
Support for Russia's WTO membership, if criteria are met
In his response to Yannick Jadot (Greens/EFA, FR), Mr De Gucht said he did not agree with the introduction of a carbon emission-related EU "border adjustment tax", which, as he put it, would run the risk of sliding into a trade war.
Answering questions by Jan Zahradil (ECR, CZ), Mr De Gucht said he supported Russia's WTO membership but it was up to Russia to comply with all the criteria. On energy security, he underlined the need for dispute settlement provisions to be included in free trade agreements with Russia and Ukraine. He added that he would also focus on dismantling non-tariff trade barriers.
Concluding the Doha Round successfully by 2010 or 2011
Responding to Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL, DE) the Commissioner-designate said he was "quite confident" that the Doha Development Round could be successfully concluded in 2010 or 2011. The WTO could in the future address a broader agenda, including trade components in climate change, but the current negotiations should focus on development, he insisted.
Karel De Gucht assured William Dartmouth (EFD, UK) that he would represent and defend the common position of the EU, following the agreement of the Member States and the institutions.
Trade in generic medicines
David Martin (S&D, UK) asked whether the Commissioner-designate planned to facilitate the trade in generic medicines to developing countries in need, by applying TRIPS-plus provisions in free trade agreements. Mr De Gucht said he agreed that access to medicines should be a fundamental right but stressed that intellectual property rights should also be respected.
To questions by Tokia Saïfi (EPP, FR) and Fiorello Provera (EFD, IT) on anti-dumping measures, Mr De Gucht said that after the Doha talks these instruments should be reviewed.
Responding to Bernd Lange (S&D, DE), he added that he would, if necessary, use trade defence instruments "without inhibition". "We need trade and more trade to preserve our social system because it brings growth", he insisted.
Following several questions about measures to combat counterfeiting, the Commissioner-designate promised to do everything possible to conclude a good Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Lastly, to a question by Cristiana Muscardini (EPP, IT), Mr De Gucht confirmed he supported the introduction of obligatory "made in" indications of origin, but pointed out that the decision was pending in the Council.
For details, see the EP website on the hearings - timetable, procedure, official documents