Report: FTA Negotiations and WTO Global Initiatives with Christophe Kiener, Head of Services and Digital Trade Unit, DG Trade | European Commission
This morning briefing featured Christophe Kiener, Head of Services and Digital Trade Unit in DG Trade at the European Commission, who gave our members an update on the current state of the FTA negotiations and WTO reform initiatives. There was a good turnout at this event as our members were eager to hear about the topical issues of the WTO eCommerce agenda, data flows and domestic regulation.
Services play a huge part in the EU, accounting for roughly 75% of our economy. However, they only make up 25% of the EU’s total external trade. While the gap is large, it also highlights the potential for further liberalising trade in services. The EU and DG Trade have been accompanying digitalisation in the economy and have been taking it into account more when negotiating. A new set of WTO negotiations in eCommerce has also begun.
The current state of the FTA negotiations was discussed extensively during the briefing. We learned that, as of 2006, DG Trade has been engaging with developing economies, including Asian countries, but also continued working with Latin American countries such as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, and recently concluded an agreement with Mexico. All the latest negotiating text proposals can be found online, such as the ones with Australia, New Zealand, Tunisia and Indonesia.
Our members were able to get extensive information on specific FTA negotiations, such as the ones with Australia and New Zealand. They are both big agricultural producers, are active in the WTO and are therefore important countries for the EU, with the EU being Australia’s second-biggest trade partners and New Zealand’s third-biggest trade partners. However, one of the challenges that the EU faces is that negotiations are usually conducted at sub-federal levels, but Australia is a federal state and has never done this in the past. An agreement might take longer to be concluded with Australia than New Zealand for that reason.
The issue of the WTO reform was also discussed in detail. The EU is trying to work with Japan and the US toreform the WTO and rethink its judicial functions. Progress has been made in terms of services and digital trade, and the EU tried to begin talks on eCommerce in Buenos Aires but these were stopped by countries such as India and South Africa. A new process of eCommerce negotiations began in March, as nothing multilateral could be launched in Buenos Aires. 76 countries agreed to go on and a set of ambitious proposals was put forward.
The Q&A session provided the opportunity for our members to raise burning questions, such as the issue of data flows which was extensively addressed. It is a difficult topic for the EU, as they were close to coming to an agreement before Trump destroyed the TTP. The logic of the EU is that data is not free to flow unless certain conditions are met, and they tried to replicate this approach in the negotiations, with a consensus that nothing in the agreement should put into question the EU’s approach on data privacy.
Head of Services and Digital Trade Unit, DG Trade | European Commission
Christophe Kiener works for the European Commission's Directorate-General for Trade, where he heads the Unit in charge of services and digital trade. Prior to that he has been working on international trade negotiations for most of his career. Christophe studied at the Graduate Institute for International Studies (University of Geneva) and at the College of Europe both in Bruges and in Warsaw.