BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament on Wednesday requested a delay in negotiations on an EU-Japan free-trade agreement (FTA) because of concerns over trade barriers, for the first time using new powers to try to hold up trade deals.
The resolution does not derail the deal itself - it called for a delay in negotiation and it is not binding. But it was a signal that the parliament is prepared to use its authority under a 2009 legal framework, the Lisbon Treaty, to reject FTAs.
In voting for the motion, parliament warned EU member states and the executive Commission that it might reject an eventual deal if its views are not taken into account, said Bernd Lange, a German Member of the European Parliament (MEP).
“At the end we have to say yes or no,” said Lange, who co-sponsored the resolution. “This is a big change to pre-Lisbon.”
Part of the aim of the Lisbon Treaty was to make the European Union more directly accountable to voters, in an era when the bloc is increasingly unpopular.
But many of the over 700 members try to attract voters on issues such as civil liberties and human rights, and the parliament’s new interventions could also slow down trade deals.
“Greater power for the European Parliament...goes a considerable way to filling the democratic deficit that previously existed with the technocratic decision-making process,” wrote Stephen Woolcock, head of the London School of Economics’ International Trade Policy Unit. “The increased powers of the EP could result in reduced efficiency.”
Also on Wednesday, the parliament passed a resolution asking Colombia to do more on human rights and labour law before it would sign an FTA with Peru and Colombia, which EU member states approved in May: At least 30 Colombian trade unionists were killed last year.
That led the Colombian Attorney General to visit Strasbourg to tell lawmakers that his country had made progress. “A lot of people...don’t know the revolution in the country’s situation,” Rodrigo Rivera, Colombia’s ambassador to Brussels, told Reuters.
The parliament is expected in July to derail a global copyright deal, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade agreement, which aims to reduce trade in counterfeit goods, including illegal Internet downloads. But the deal is unpopular because of fears over the targeting of individuals downloading for their own use.
In addition to trade issues, the parliament has used new powers to unpick agreements with the United States on sharing financial and travel data for anti-terror investigations.
In 2010, it watered down an agreement that allows U.S. treasury officials to request data on financial transfers between the European Union and United States.
Voting in parliament elections has been falling, along with interest from EU citizens. Still, business groups have learned that it’s worth trying to persuade MEPs to side with them.
The parliament in May 2011 passed an FTA with South Korea. But the European car industry is now upset about the results: Imports to the European Union of cars from South Korea jumped to 285,521 units in the period from July 2011 to February 2012, a 67 percent rise over a year earlier, while EU exports to Korea rose just 9 percent to 53,590.
“We’ve got to find out whether the free trade agreement is delivering all the benefits that everybody envisioned at the time we signed it,” Sergio Marchionne, Fiat CEO and president of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), said last week. “It’s a very good warning sign for Japan.”
The Commission said in May it was ready for FTA negotiations with Japan, after Tokyo agreed to address concerns over its non-tariff barriers to car imports and public procurement.
editing by Ron Askew