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EU Trade Ministers on World Trade Organisation reform and improved relations with the US

On Thursday, 11 November 2021, a regular meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council comprising trade ministers took place in Brussels. The main topics of the meeting were the World Trade Organization (WTO) reform, including preparations for the upcoming 12th WTO Ministerial Conference and EU-US trade relations. The meeting was chaired by Minister Zdravko Počivalšek in his capacity as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Council (Trade).

Ministers discussed the latest developments in the WTO reform process, as well as the state of play of preparations for the 12nd WTO Ministerial Conference, with a focus on potential results. As a preliminary point, Minister Počivalšek pointed out that past discussions had resulted in the agreement of the Member States that the European Union should take the lead in reforming the WTO. "The success of the December Ministerial Conference will be important for confirming the WTO’s central role in the multilateral trading system", emphasized minister Počivalšek.

In the discussion, ministers supported the approach proposed by the Commission for the 12nd Ministerial Conference. Important areas for progress include trade and health, including the intellectual property component, and the establishment of a working group on institutional reform of the WTO. An important area where agreement is sought, meanwhile, is the negotiations on fisheries subsidies. The Council also expressed the need for active cooperation with third partners in order to achieve important results.

In a discussion on EU-US trade relations, ministers took stock of current developments and prospects for future cooperation with US partners. Minister Počivalšek welcomed the June endorsement of EU-US close cooperation as partners and allies, adding that "cooperation with the US administration is intense and has already borne fruit – the establishment of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council, the ending of the Airbus-Boeing dispute, the suspension of trade disputes on steel and aluminium tariffs". "The newly established Trade and Technology Council is a much-needed political platform for strategic transatlantic discussion and a key tool for building a positive agenda with the US", emphasized minister Počivalšek.

While welcoming the recent positive steps, member state ministers called for caution and for work to continue in order to finally resolve the outstanding issues. They stressed the need to prevent the emergence of new disputes or obstacles. They would like to see determined effort towards developing a positive, forward-looking transatlantic agenda. They also pointed out that they encouraged the Commission to work intensively with the US administration in the future. EU-US cooperation in WTO reform and preparations for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference was highlighted as a key element of the positive agenda.

In a discussion with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, the ministers addressed the important progress made in transatlantic relations since the EU-US summit in June. They agreed and committed to build on this momentum and to tackle common challenges, both bilaterally and multilaterally, including the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference.

Before presenting the Commission's implementation report, Minister Počivalšek said: "In recent years, the number of trade agreements has been increasing, while the global trade policy's global environment has been changing significantly. We therefore need to focus on ensuring that these agreements are effectively implemented and complied with. This is important for both our businesses and citizens so that they see the benefits of trade agreements. This is our joint task." The Commission presented the report and called for continued good joint work with member states. The report provides a snapshot of the evolution of EU preferential trade in 2020, examines 37 major trade agreements and summarises the results of implementation and enforcement in 2020 and the first half of 2021.