ALECA / Tunisia : (ENG) Interview with Mr Bercero, EU chief negotiator (DG Trade – European Commission)

Fadil Aliriza interviewed Mr. Bercero by emailing Tunis European Delegation’s press service. The interview was originally sent in English. French and Arabic translations were made by Barr al Aman editorial team. Mr Ignacio Garcia Bercero is the chief of European negotiators’ team.

With regards to the DCFTA’s category of trade in agriculture and fishing products, are cereals and grains currently under discussion and does the EU hope to be able to export grains totally tariff and barrier free to Tunisia? What exactly are the concrete objectives of the EU in terms of these negotiations, and would it be possible to share any numbers about this issue? A representative from UTAP has said on record that 120,000 Tunisian cereal farmers are at risk of losing their jobs when they will be exposed to competition from European farmers who benefit from subsidies under the CAP (common agricultural policy following ALECA’s signing – is this risk being considered seriously?

Tunisia represents 0.5% of the EU total trade and our commercial interests in Tunisia are therefore rather limited. In contrast, Tunisia is a key political priority for the EU. Our first and foremost objective is to consolidate the democratic transition and to support the Tunisian economy. In this framework, the EU sees the DCFTA as an instrument to support economic development and the upgrading of the Tunisian economy by facilitating and creating new export opportunities to the EU market, of around 500 million consumers. In our view the DCFTA could also help to catalyse and accelerate much-needed domestic reforms in Tunisia. Like on other aspects of this DCFTA negotiations, the liberalisation in agriculture will be guided by the principles of asymmetry and progressivity in favour of Tunisia (i.e. the EU has offered to open up its market to Tunisia immediately whilst Tunisia will liberalise only gradually over a number of years). Moreover, each side will have the choice of fully excluding from this liberalisation its most sensitive agriculture tariff lines. The DCFTA negotiation process will also be accompanied by EU cooperation support. The Tunisian agricultural sector alone has already benefitted from € 214 million in EU support (adding recently concluded programmes and support programmes underway), aimed mainly at increasing the competitiveness and sustainability of the agricultural sector and to facilitate and diversify exports, and where possible, creating additional value through quality certifications and geographical recognition.  Although DCFTA negotiations were formally launched in 2015, on substance we are still in the very early stages of the negotiating process on market access. Only 2 full negotiating rounds have taken place thus far, which have served simply to explain and clarify matters. Market access offers on agriculture have not yet been prepared on either side nor exchanged between the two sides. We encourage stakeholders’ input on priority sectors, so as to inform negotiators on both sides on the market access offers that should be exchanged in the future.

The clauses relating to data exclusivity contained in the most up-to-date version of the 2018 text relating to Intellectual Property Rights will result in higher prices of drugs in Tunisia if implemented as they currently exist, according to experts I consulted. There are many other examples of other developing countries that saw the prices of medications increase as a result of trade deals including data exclusivity, one example being “All Costs, No Benefits: How the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement Affects Access to Medicines” (Rohit Malpani, 2009). Why is it so important for the European Union to include data exclusivity in the ALECA deal despite its well-documented effects on drug prices? Does the EU consider the protection of intellectual property to be a higher priority than access to and affordability of drugs?

Regulatory data protection provides an important incentive for developing safe and effective pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals. It is an incentive that patents alone cannot provide. Much of the required expenditure in terms of time and money is directed to R&D that rarely yields patentable inventions.  Innovators make very considerable investments, and incur considerable risk, in bringing new products to the market. And – in the case of medicines – patients are better off as a result. But we must provide appropriate incentives for this system to function properly. The EU believes that the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) generally and the EU bilateral trade agreements specifically provide a reasonable balance. In all the FTAs we are negotiating with developing countries, we take into consideration the development status and public health concerns of our trading partners, as well as the country’s specificities. We are not asking and will not ask for provisions which would be contrary to or otherwise undermine the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health. On the contrary, the provisions on intellectual property we propose include an explicit reference to the Doha Declaration, so as to ensure that the flexibilities granted by the TRIPS Agreement, especially as regards patents on medicines, can be fully used by our trading partners. This means that the IPR chapter we propose respects the rights and flexibilities that have been recognised to the WTO Members under the Doha Declaration.

There were supposed to be committees to consult with civil society during the ALECA negotiations but I have heard there has only been one formal tripartite meeting between Tunisian government, the EU and civil society.  Many civil society organizations say they are not being included – why is this the case?

The EU conducts the DCFTA negotiations with a high degree of transparency. All EU initial proposed texts are public and online and we favour continuous dialogue with both EU and Tunisian civil society.  Tripartite meetings with civil society are held in the margin of each negotiating round and detailed joint reports of the negotiating rounds are made publicly available right afterwards. The latest of these tripartite meetings was held in Tunis before the 2nd negotiating round in May 2018 and a similar one took place before the 1st negotiating round in April 2016.  We will also consult civil society in the preparations and the follow up of the next round planned in Brussels in the week of 10th of December. This would probably take place in February 2019.  (

Can you confirm that members of the Tunisian ALECA negotiating team received training in negotiation by the European union or received training from through projects or programs funded or supported by the EU?

Upon Tunisia’s request the EU has financed and facilitated a number of study trips to the EU to learn about EU rules, regulations and practices. For instance, the EU has facilitated a trip for Tunisian negotiators to meet with EU civil society and to learn how EU civil society manages consultations in trade negotiations. Others have provided similar assistance too. For example, the German foundation Bertelsmann brought to Tunis in June 2018 the former DCFTA chief negotiators from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – 3 countries with DCFTAs in place with the EU – to share their experience, including on implementing the agreements.

The EU has provided 100s of millions in macro-financial assistance to Tunisia in recent years. On top of this the EU is the main destination of most of Tunisia’s exports. Doesn’t this mean the EU has huge leverage over Tunisia in negotiations?

Regardless of the difference in size, the EU and Tunisia have a common interest. As already stated, the key EU interest in this negotiation is not primarily commercial, but to focus on the development of the Tunisian economy through clearer integration with the EU market. Therefore, it supports economic development in Tunisia by opening up new export opportunities, fostering a more competitive business environment and a more transparent and predictable investment framework, which would in turn result in more jobs and economic growth to the benefit of both Tunisian and European workers, businesses and citizens at large.

What role do you expect Tunisia’s parliament will have in ALECA?

The Tunisian and the European parliaments will each vote on the DCFTA agreement once negotiated. Regular discussions between the two bodies in the framework of the EU-Tunisia mixed parliament committee take place to keep abreast of progress in bilateral relations, including on the DCFTA. In October 2018 a delegation of the European Parliament international trade committee travelled to Tunisia for a discussion on DCFTA negotiations with the Tunisian parliament and other key stakeholders.

Is 2019 a hard deadline for passing the deal?

Both sides have not set a hard deadline for this negotiation. On our side, there are negotiating directives to negotiate an EU-Tunisia DCFTA and unwavering political commitment to continue the negotiation process, in which substance will always prevails over speed, as we commonly say. We also hope that on the Tunisia side, the level of political commitment to this negotiation and the clarity of the mandate given to the Tunisian negotiating team is equally high. Needless to say that these are preconditions to reach a good and balanced agreement beneficial to both sides.

Some in Tunisia have said that the ALECA deal’s stipulations of Tunisia aligning its laws and regulations with those of the EU without having any power to vote on these laws amounts to a loss of juridical sovereignty, and others have gone further to say that this represents a new form of European “rule” (also in the literal sense of rules and regulations) over Tunisia or a new form of colonialism. How does the EU respond to these characterizations of legislative alignment without voting say?

This is another area of frequent misunderstanding. The DCFTA offers Tunisia the possibility of aligning its laws to EU laws and regulations in force – so as to integrate itself further into the European economic space and further facilitate access to the EU market – but only in the sectors and areas of Tunisia’s interest and choice. This means that the EU is not imposing anything on Tunisia!  It will be up to Tunisia to define the scope and the rhythm of such an alignment, depending on its own economic interests and domestic political consensus. The three other EU neighbouring countries with DCFTAs in place with the EU (Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova) were also presented with the possibility of aligning to EU regulatory framework. And, they freely took the political decision to aim at aligning to most, and not all, of EU rules and regulations across several sectors. It is therefore for Tunisia, and up to its leadership, to decide which level of alignment with the EU they want to aim at, and which sectors should be subject to or excluded from this process.

Why has the EU pursued a policy of separating negotiations over trade from agreements about mobility of persons with Tunisia? Is this a signal that the EU believes these two to be unrelated to one another or to not affect one another?

Under EU law, mobility and trade negotiations fall under different legal frameworks.  In the case of Tunisia, trade and mobility negotiations are carried out in parallel, and this parallelism is an opportunity to ensure synergies between the EU commitments in the context of the DCFTA, on the one hand, and in the visa facilitation agreement, on the other hand. This is the first time ever that the EU negotiates these two agreements in parallel with a partner country and hence there is a real opportunity to coordinate closely, while avoiding that one negotiation slows down the other.






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