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Hearing Officer | Brussels, 19 April

President of the European Commission officialises the function of Trade Hearing Officer and strengthens his independence

The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has adopted a decision published today on the function and terms of reference of the Trade Hearing Officer. The function was created in January 2007 and was entrusted to a member of the Directorate General for Trade of the European Commission, who acted on the basis of the existing legal framework. The decision is now setting out in a formal mandate the role and the powers of the hearing officer. It aims to underpin the European Commission’s commitment to guaranteeing due process in trade proceedings and to enhance the independence of this function.

The primary role of the hearing officer is to guarantee the protection of the rights of all parties concerned and thereby contribute to ensure that the rules are implemented in an objective and transparent manner in trade proceedings. The latter refers to a number of trade investigations conducted by the European Commission, including for example all trade defence proceedings or the proceedings for the temporary withdrawal of preferences under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Regulation.

The hearing officer acts on the request of the interested parties who participate in trade investigations, such as producers, importers or users in the EU of the products concerned by the investigations, exporting producers in third countries, associations or governments of third countries in certain cases and on the request of the European Commission services. He is empowered to raise any concerns about the conduct or content of a trade investigation with the European Commissioner responsible for trade policy and the Director General for Trade. Furthermore, the mandate grants the hearing officer decision making powers in cases of disputes on access to files, confidentiality of information in the possession of the European Commission and the granting of extensions of deadlines.

The President's decision also lays out detailed rules on hearings conducted by the hearing officer on all aspects of a trade proceeding, from initiation to disclosure of final findings and conclusions. A hearing can cover any issue which arises at any moment of a trade investigation and could affect the rights of the interested parties. Thus participants in trade proceedings have an additional opportunity to have their case heard by an independent official.
The hearing officer is attached to the European Commissioner for trade, not as a member of the cabinet but in a separate function. Thus, the officer will not be reliant on the department whose actions he or she oversees, reinforcing the position's independence.

For more information:

Decision of the President of the European Commission