On Monday 31 May 2021, on the margins of the EFTA Ministerial meeting, the EFTA Parliamentary Committee (EFTA PC) and the EFTA Consultative Committee (EFTA CC) organised a series of meetings to discuss EFTA third-country processes and horizontal issues. Sustainability in EFTA free trade agreements and transparency of EFTA free trade processes were among the topics.
The EFTA PC convened in the morning and discussed the protection of intellectual property rights over new varieties of plants in EFTA free trade agreements and its potential impact on seed systems in EFTA partner countries. The alleged tension between the right to seeds and protection of intellectual property rights in EFTA free trade agreements was discussed with Christophe Golay from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and with representatives from the EFTA Secretariat and EFTA Member States.
Mr Golay stressed: “EFTA countries should stop promoting the 1991 version of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) in its free trade agreements and encourage developing countries to use the possibilities offered by the WTO Agreement on Trade-related aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) to design a sui generis systems of plant variety protection adapted to their local specificities”.
The representative of the EFTA secretariat made it clear that “EFTA is not making any pre-requisite to join UPOV to conclude a free trade agreement. EFTA States always strive to provide the best possible solution for all stakeholders to reflect protection schemes on plant varieties in its free trade agreements”.
The EFTA CC met with social partners from the EU to discuss both the EU and EFTA free trade agreements with Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) countries which are currently undergoing a legal review both in the EU and in EFTA countries. Since the Mercosur market is among the largest in the world, the social partners both in the EU and EFTA are following developments closely. They were able to share lessons learned with regard to subjects such as sustainability and free trade.
“A huge challenge and worry for the ETUC in the context of trade is labour standards. We are worried that the EU is pursuing trade negotiations with countries having a bad record of respect of human and workers' rights. In this respect we have serious concerns regarding the EU-Mercosur trade agreement“ said Per Hilmersson, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). “Now the European Commission is working on a declaration on additional commitments from the Mercosur side but mostly on environment. We expect such agreement or declaration to also tackle workers and trade union's rights as these go hand in hand with environmental commitments within the concept of sustainable development” he added.
In the afternoon, the EFTA advisory bodies met jointly and discussed the utilisation rate of EFTA FTAs by EFTA companies. Eric Nussbaumer, the EFTA PC Chair, stressed that “such studies would allow them to assess whether there are potential bottlenecks and address them to maximise the utilisation rate of EFTA FTAs. This would foster the competitivity of EFTA companies and products on foreign markets”.
The meeting also offered the opportunity to the members of the EFTA advisory bodies to discuss the outcome of their discussions with the EFTA Ministers as well as possible follow-up regarding both sustainability and transparency of EFTA free trade processes.
The EFTA PC and the EFTA CC are EFTA advisory bodies. The EFTA PC is a forum of parliamentarians from the four EFTA countries, while the EFTA CC brings together representatives of the trade union confederations and employers’ associations in the four EFTA countries. The mission of both advisory bodies is to scrutinise and provide advice on the EFTA States trade relations with third countries as well as on the relations with the EU through the implementation of the EEA Agreement. Both advisory bodies are vital platforms for dialogue and consultation on social, economic and political aspects of the EFTA free trade agreements and the functioning of the EEA.
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