The European Parliament has recently been on a fact finding mission in South Africa. This fact finding exercise was conducted by a delegation from its Committee on International Trade (INTA). The delegation was headed by Robert Sturdy, vice chair of the INTA, who commented that it was the first occasion ever for the committee to be briefed by private sector trade lawyers. It was indeed a pleasure for us to meet with the delegation in Cape Town to share the Firm’s views on local and regional trade law issues from a practitioners’ vantage point. We consider these engagements critically useful in improving trade relations between the EU and South Africa, which potentially has a direct impact on trading profitability of many of the Firm’s clients.
In Europe there has been a substantive change in the way that trade policy is formulated over the past year. This is due to the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty which entered into force in December 2009. This instrument amends the Treaty on the European Union (known as the Treaty of Maastricht) and the Treaty establishing the European Community (known as the Treaty of Rome).
Most widely known is that the Treaty of Lisbon is the instrument that has brought about the name change from ‘European Community’ to ‘European Union’. However – what is in a name? More importantly it fundamentally changes certain areas of policy making, especially for the EU’s Common Commercial Policy. The most notable new elements of the Common Commercial Policy for current purposes are primarily related to the decision making process in the negotiation and conclusion of trade agreements and the delimitation of competences between the EU and its Member States.
This more balanced institutional setup adopted with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty implies that the European Parliament will henceforth be treated on an equal footing with the Council. This puts an end to the dual governance (or diarchy) of the Commission and the Council on external trade matters. In future the Parliament, through the INTA committee, will specifically share powers with the Council to adopt EU legislation on trade agreements and trade instruments such as anti-dumping measures, safeguards, the Trade Barriers Regulation, as well as autonomous trade programmes such as the Generalised System of Preferences scheme.
The importance of the visiting delegation for South Africa is thus patently clear insofar as its trade relations under the existing Trade Development and Cooperation Agreement are concerned, as well as its future trading relationship through the emerging SADC Economic Partnership Agreement. Readers affected by either of these trade agreements are welcome to contact us for advice as to how to apply the provisions of the agreements to their benefit.