Dmitry Medvedev, president of Russia, is expected to push for the lifting of European Union visa requirements for Russian citizens when he receives senior EU officials for a summit next week (9-10 June).
The summit, in Nizhny Novgorod in western Russia, will also discuss Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization, a development the EU backs and which is likely to happen in the coming months. Russia and the EU hold summits twice a year, an arrangement which is now under review in light of the thin agendas for such meetings.
No EU commitment
Russia and the EU are scheduled to agree preliminary steps toward the possible lifting of visa requirements, but diplomats stress that the document will not contain any schedule and makes no commitment on the final outcome of the process. Many EU member states oppose lifting visa requirements for Russian citizens because of concerns over organised crime, corruption and the state of Russia’s law enforcement authorities. Several member states also oppose lifting visa requirements for Russian citizens as long as citizens of Ukraine, which has closer ties to the EU, still need visas to visit EU member states.
The ‘list of joint steps’ which is expected to be adopted at the summit sets out actions in the areas of passport and document security, illegal migration and border security, and bilateral security co-ordination.
A number of EU member states, including France, have relaxed their rules for issuing visas valid across the EU’s Schengen area to Russian passport-holders, for example by giving multiple-entry visas to applicants who have travelled to the EU before.
The EU delegation will be led by Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. It also includes Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief.
The European Union expects to complete a trade deal with Singapore this autumn, according to trade diplomats. The two sides launched negotiations in March last year and are meeting for a seventh round of talks in Brussels on Monday (6 June). The deal would remove most tariff lines on trade in goods and services that were worth €60 billion last year.
The deal would the first with one of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Singapore is by far the EU’s most important trading partner in that grouping, accounting for around one-third of EU-Asean trade.
“Completing a free trade agreement with Singapore could be a catalyst for others in the region and could have a significant impact,” an official said. The EU is also in the early stages of trade negotiations with Malaysia, another Asean member. The EU and Asean broke off trade talks early in 2009, and EU member states agreed in December 2009 to pursue bilateral deals with individual members instead.
The EU and Japan agreed at a summit in Brussels last Saturday (28 May) to prepare talks on a bilateral free-trade agreement. This would be the EU’s most important trade deal to date. Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, and the two sides traded goods worth €109 billion last year. Talks are expected to start next year. “I’m convinced this will lead to a far-reaching economic partnership agreement,” said Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister (pictured), after the summit.
Japan and the EU are now to discuss the scope of what they are willing to negotiate – an exercise expected to take around six months.
Japan has long asked for trade negotiations with the EU, a request which became more insistent after the EU struck its first-ever trade deal in Asia, with South Korea, which takes effect on 1 July. The EU wants to open talks only if Japan is willing to lower non-tariff barriers to trade.
The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association said that the scoping exercise must not lead to the “automatic” opening of trade talks with Japan, and that Japan had to provide a “firm commitment to eliminate” non-tariff barriers.