Transatlantic Trade | US and Europe – Week of June 7, 2021
The United Kingdom (UK) hosted the Group of Seven¹ (G7) Leaders’ Summit, which opened on Friday and will conclude on Sunday. The Summit comes after the G7 Finance Ministers reached an agreement in principle on global minimum tax regime last weekend. Officials from the United States (US), including the President, were in the UK this week, and they will travel next week to Brussels to continue to promote a stronger transatlantic relationship. The US President will also stop in Switzerland for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week. Meanwhile, the UK and European Union (EU) reached an agreement this week related to post-Brexit fish catch limits, while their ongoing talks to resolve the Northern Ireland border issues remain stalled.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) discussed the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) waiver for COVID-19 vaccines this week. Ahead of the G7 Summit, the United States announced it would donate a sizeable amount of COVID-19 vaccines to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) to further efforts to vaccinate the world against the coronavirus. The G7 also announced contributions to the COVAX effort on Friday.
In this issue, we also cover:
COVID-19 highlights among the transatlantic partners;
Notable UK, US, and EU developments; and
UK-EU trade deal
COVID-19 Highlights | EU, US, UK
The European Medicines Agency announced the beginning of the evaluation process for the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, a couple of weeks after approving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for adolescents.
The WTO’s TRIPS Council met this week, discussing the EU’s counter proposal to the South Africa/India proposal for the TRIPS Agreement COVID-19 vaccine waiver. Nevertheless, the EU, UK, Switzerland and South Korea remain opposed to the TRIPS waiver. Despite some reported progress, an informal meeting scheduled for 17 June is set to try to advance discussions, ahead of the next WTO General Council on 21 July. Meanwhile, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for a temporary vaccine patent waiver and calling for more transparency on the vaccine contracts the EU has secured.
On 10 June, US President Joe Biden announced the United States would purchase and donate 500 million of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to 92 low- and lower middle-income countries and the African Union. This is the largest-ever purchase and donation of vaccines by a single country to help protect people around the world from COVID-19. The White House released a fact sheet on the American donation. According to President Biden, the US will begin shipping the donated doses of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to countries in “dire need” in August.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK would donate at least 100 million surplus coronavirus vaccine doses within the next year, including five million beginning in the coming weeks. On Friday, G7+ Leaders² agreed to provide one billion doses via dose sharing and financing to end the pandemic in 2022. The White House released a fact sheet detailing the G7 and COVAX effort, which is available here.
Notable UK Developments
Ahead of the G7 Leaders’ Summit, the G7 Finance Ministers announced a historic agreement on 5 June for a global minimum tax regime with a corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent. The outcome of this agreement is expected to give momentum to the multilateral discussions held at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Inclusive Framework level, due to meet at the end of June. However, it remains to be seen whether the required consensus can be achieved at the OECD.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Johnson and President Biden set out a global vision in a new Atlantic Charter to deepen cooperation in democracy and human rights, defence and security, science and innovation, and economic prosperity, with renewed joint efforts to tackle the challenges posed by climate change, biodiversity loss, and emerging health threats. The joint statement is available here. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed Prime Minister Johnson and President Biden also discussed US-UK travel restrictions in their bilateral meeting on Thursday. However, restrictions remain in place, but an announcement may be forthcoming on possible resumption of travel between the two countries.
On 8 June, at a private sector event, UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss spoke of opportunities that Global Britain has, including in areas like services and digital. The UK, she said, would also be “pushing hard” at the WTO “to see advances in areas like e-commerce, services domestic regulation and digital trade.”
On 7 June, the UK Department of International Trade announced a new mentorship programme to help UK farmers and food producers boost their exports. The programme, a partnership with Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), and the National Farmers Union (NFU), will match experienced exporters with businesses who are looking to export for the first time.
Last Friday, the UK secured a new trade deal in principle with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein to boost British sectors like digital and reduce tariffs on high-quality British food and farm products. The agreement also means British businesses can bid for more government contracts in these partner countries.
Notable US Developments
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is accompanying President Biden on his European trip. On Friday, he spoke with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, discussing energy diversification, among other things. On Wednesday, 9 June, the US Department of State condemned a decision by a Moscow court to designate as “extremist” three organizations affiliated with imprisoned Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny.
On Tuesday, Secretary Blinken issued a statement regarding President Biden’s new Executive Order (E.O.) that builds on and expands previous E.O.s, modernizing the Western Balkans sanctions regime by including references to the 2018 Prespa Agreement and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. Additionally, the new E.O. provides for sanctions against persons whose actions destabilize the Western Balkans region by undermining democratic institutions and the rule of law or by violating human rights. Albania was added to the scope of the E.O. to better address region-wide networks of corruption. The E.O. also authorizes the imposition of sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for corruption in the region, including misappropriation of public assets, expropriation of private assets for personal gain or political purposes, or bribery. A White House fact sheet on the new E.O. is accessible here.
On Tuesday, 8 June, the Biden Administration released its 100-day supply chain review of critical industries, namely semiconductor chips, critical minerals, advanced batteries, and pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). The Administration also announced the establishment of a new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to provide a whole-of-government response to address near-term supply chain challenges to the economic recovery. The Task Force will be led by the Secretaries of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture. Additionally, the Department of Commerce is expected to launch a new data hub to monitor near-term supply chain vulnerabilities, thereby improving the Federal Government’s ability to track supply and demand disruptions and improve information sharing between agencies and the private sector. A White House fact sheet on the review, is available here.
Also on Tuesday, by a vote of 68 to 32, the US Senate passed S. 1260, the US Innovation and Competition Act (“USICA”), which is legislation aimed at boosting American competitiveness, especially vis-à-vis the People’s Republic of China (“China”). The Senate approved several amendments throughout the debate on the bill. Most notably, it adopted an amendment containing several trade provisions including, among other things:
reauthorization of the Generalized System of Preference, which expired at the end of 2020;
a new Miscellaneous Tariff Bill; and
re-instatement of all product exclusions granted by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) to the Trump Administration’s Section 301 tariffs on products from China.
USICA is quite comprehensive and numbers over 2,000 pages. The bill now moves to the US House of Representatives, where it remains unclear what the lower chamber may do. It appears increasingly likely that the House may make changes to the Senate bill or draft and pass its own legislation.
On Friday, US lawmakers unveiled a group of bipartisan antitrust bills that would address how Big Tech does business in the United States. If approved, these bills could address competition concerns in America, such as how Apple and Android set prices and polices for their app stores, make it illegal for Amazon to both own the platform and offer competing services on it, and end Facebook and Google’s current practice of buying smaller rivals to control the online ecosystem. Google could also possibly be forced to divest YouTube.
President Biden will travel next to Brussels, Belgium, to attend the NATO Summit on 14 June; he will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the margins to discuss bilateral and regional issues. While in Brussels, President Biden will meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel on 15 June for the EU-US Summit. President Biden will also meet with His Majesty King Philippe of Belgium and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, while in Brussels. President Biden will also travel to Geneva, Switzerland, for a bilateral summit with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin on 16 June. He will also meet with Swiss President Guy Parmelin and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in Geneva.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) said on the Senate floor on Wednesday ahead of next week’s Biden-Putin Summit that Russia is a “mafia state run by a vicious authoritarian and his inner circle of corrupt oligarchs.” Regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, he suggested,
[T]he [Biden] Administration should reconsider sanctions waiver on NS2 AG and Matthias Warnig. If the pipeline is completed, the U.S. should work to ensure that it does not become operational.”
This pipeline is a bad deal for Europe and its energy security, and strongly opposed by citizens across the European continent. And despite what some have said, it is not too late for the United States to make a tangible difference here.”
At an event in Washington on 10 June, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai laid out her vision for a worker-centered trade policy that supports the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better agenda. Apart from a domestic policy focus, Ambassador Tai stated,
The WTO, for example, doesn’t adequately hear from workers, and we want to change that. We’ll keep asking for this in other international organizations, such as APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] and the OECD, too.”
She spotlighted the US had tabled a proposal at the WTO on forced labor to ensure it is included in any agreement the WTO reaches to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies.
Ambassador Tai also said the Administration is “working with allies to make our supply chains less vulnerable and more resilient;” she added, “We need to diversify our international suppliers and reduce geographic concentration risk.” To this point, Ambassador Tai spotlighted she is leading a Trade Task Force as part of the President’s Supply Chain Resilience effort to propose unilateral and multilateral enforcement actions against unfair foreign trade practices that have eroded critical supply chains.
Ambassador Tai shared she will join President Biden on his trip to Brussels next week to meet with European counterparts. She said that discussions are expected to focus on the ongoing negotiations to resolve the large civil aircraft dispute, Section 232 duties on aluminum and steel, and addressing “harmful industrial policies of China and other countries that undermine [the United States’] ability to compete.” Meanwhile, the White House announced Friday morning that President Biden would welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House on 15 July.
Notable EU Development
Executive Vice President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis stressed during a speech before the European Parliament that next week’s EU-US Summit in Brussels presents a great opportunity to reboot the transatlantic relations. Dombrovskis stressed a desire to “make decisive progress to resolve our bilateral disputes on aircrafts and the US Section 232 measures on steel and aluminum”. The EU is also ready to engage the United States on the Section 232 national security metal duties, with Dombrovskis stressing, “It is now for the US to walk the talk.”
UK-EU Trade Deal Updates
This week’s EU-UK Joint Committee did not yield results on solutions for existing trade barriers linked to the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The EU proposed the creation of a temporary veterinary arrangement, similar to the EU-Switzerland one, which could eliminate the problems on custom control checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland. The UK rejected the proposal, prompting Vice President Maroš Šefčovič to warn, “Our patience is wearing really, really thin, so we need to assess all options at our disposal”. This could well include legal actions against the UK, such as tariffs or suspension of Britain’s participation in certain EU programs. To address “fundamental gaps” Šefčovič called on the need to implement the Protocol, as previously agreed to after four years of negotiations of the Withdrawal Agreement. Šefčovič outlined various EU attempts to find solutions for the continuation of trade at the Irish border, highlighting in particular the intention to work towards continuous supply of medicines to Northern Ireland. Other issues discussed this week include citizens’ rights, particularly on the residence applications and the related legal certainty under the Withdrawal Agreement. Meanwhile, Former Irish Prime Minister and former EU Ambassador to the US John Bruto pointed out the probability of EU tariffs towards the UK if their stance to reject a temporary veterinary deal with the EU persists.
In an op-ed published prior to the EU-UK Joint Committee, British Cabinet Minister David Frost stressed the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol has been underestimated by the UK Government, and he asserted the EU requires a revised “playbook dealing with neighbours” with “pragmatic solutions”. Many have since criticized the op-ed, including Irish Minister of European Affairs Thomas Byrne and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs David Coveney. Meanwhile, on 10 June, the UK and EU signed an agreement related to post-Brexit fish catch limits.
¹The G7 is comprised of the US, UK, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, and Italy, along with the European Union.
²The guest countries included at the G7 Leaders Summit this year are Australia, India, and South Korea.