Blog: Good discussions with civil society - Hoofdinhoud
Getting EU trade policy right means listening to as wide a range of views as possible. That's why I keep my door as open as possible, so that those who want can meet me or one of my staff. Another way through which we're able to listen and engage is a process of regular dialogue that we've set up with civil society groups. So far, over 450 groups have registered to take part, and we convene regular meetings throughout the year.
Earlier this week, we held the latest such meeting, and I was fortunate enough to spend two hours with people representing everyone from beef farmers and car makers to conservationists and transparency campaigners. You can read my opening comments and watch the meeting online.
Many of the questions and comments focused on the EU's ongoing negotiations on trade deals with individual countries or groups of countries. One of these is Japan - our second biggest trade partner in Asia, and our sixth biggest in the world. The Japanese are long-standing allies in promoting a rules-based global trading system, and concluding a trade agreement with them would send a strong message against growing protectionism.
It could also boost our exports to the country by over one third. It would remove virtually all of the €1 billion that our exporters have to pay each year in tariffs. It would improve access for our companies, including small and medium-sized ones, in areas like agricultural products, and public procurement. It would protect our EU geographical indications while cutting non-tariff barriers and unnecessary red tape. It would also include commitments that reflect European values, in areas like workers' rights and environmental protection, and uphold European health and safety standards.
We have been making good progress for some time now, with 18 rounds of negotiations so far. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met President Juncker at the G7 meeting in Italy last week, and they reaffirmed their strong commitment for an early conclusion of the negotiations. We haven't solved all the issues yet - such as on tariffs and public procurement - but everything is on the table.
I am determined that we should be as open as possible in these as in all our trade negotiations. You can read on our website the reports of all the latest negotiating rounds with Japan and our new negotiating proposals. And we have been busy consulting and updating EU governments and MEPs throughout the negotiating process. Since last year, we have taken part in 15 meetings with the EU Member States and ten with the European Parliament's international trade (INTA) committee, on Japan alone.
At the civil society dialogue in Brussels this week, I also received several questions on the way forward in the Brexit negotiations, and on such disparate issues as animal rights and exports of ski boots. I also answered questions on our current negotiations with the Mercosur region, and with Mexico. With Mercosur (which comprises Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) we had a negotiating round in March which made significant progress. Both parties want a comprehensive, balanced agreement, and with hard work we could get it done by the end of the year.
With Mexico, meanwhile, we are really speeding up negotiations. There is very strong support for this agreement in Mexico and we are committed to doing everything we can to get an agreement by the end of the year.
After this week's civil society dialogue, and after having visited trade partners like Mexico, Canada and Singapore in the past few months, I must say that I feel very positive about the state of EU trade policy. We're making good progress in the substance of our negotiations, and we're being more transparent and hearing from more people than ever before.