Eleanor Sharpston, the Advocate General at the European Court of Justice / photo: theguardian.com

Trade agreement between Singapore and the European Union is put on uncertainty

LUXEMBOURG — A trade agreement between Singapore and the European Union can not be fast-tracked into force in a case likely to impact Europe’s trade strategy, an Advocate General at the European court of justice wrote in a ruling released on Wednesday (21 Dec).

The Guardian reported, Eleanor Sharpston, the Advocate General at the European court of justice, argued that an EU trade deal with Singapore can only be finalised by the EU and member states, and not by Brussels institutions acting alone.

It means the deal may have to be ratified by:

  • At least 38 national and regional parliaments, including the EU’s 28 national parliaments,
  • At least five regional and linguistic parliaments in Belgium, and,
  • At least five upper houses, including those of Germany and Italy.

An EU exclusive deal can enter force relatively quickly, it only require approval from the 28 EU governments and the European Parliament. A mixed deal also requires the approval of national, and in some cases regional, parliaments.

Today Online reported that the latter process argued by Ms Sharpston is lengthy; in the case of an EU-Korea deal provisionally in force in 2011, it took almost five years for the final asset. There is also a higher chance that any deal will be killed off by political opposition to free trade.

“While the advocate general notes that difficulties may arise from a ratification process involving all of the member states alongside the EU, she considers that that cannot affect the question of who has competence to conclude the agreement,” Ms Sharpston wrote.

She distinguished between EU competences and national ones. The European commission may take comfort from the fact it is deemed to have exclusive power to negotiate trade agreements on a wide range of issues, including trade in goods and many services, foreign-direct investment, many intellectual property questions and competition policy.

The European commission, which negotiates trade agreements on behalf of the EU’s 510 million people, argues it has the power to sign agreements. However, national governments claimed that the trade deal touches on national competences and requires their approval.

A European commission spokesperson said, “This is an important element contributing to the court’s reflection, so we are of course carefully analysing it.”

“However, it must be clear that no definitive conclusions can be drawn until the court itself issues its final opinion,” the spokeperson said.

The EU at present has 34 trade agreements with 60 countries. EU trade negotiators have commenced on 19 separate trade negotiations covering 52 countries, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the US, which is now suspended after the election of Donald Trump, the Guardian wrote.

These trade deals have developed from relatively simple agreements centered on cutting tariffs to far-reaching accords, covering everything from mutual recognition of environmental, safety and labour standards to public procurement.

But seeing the development, the national governments are increasingly challenging the EU’s sole competence to conclude such sweeping trade agreements through a growing public backlash against free trade and the power of unclear trade panels, to settle disputes between governments and powerful corporations.