The EU is standing up for global trade
The EU is now the undisputed global leader in open and fair trade, says David Martin.
In the last year and a half, since Donald Trump became US President, the international trade scenario has changed a great deal - and not for the better. The EU used to rely on the US, both as a key political partner and as a strong defender of the multilateral trading system and of open, fair and rules-based trade.
As the limited inputs provided to the Buenos Aires ministerial conference in December last year clearly demonstrated, the US has not only disengaged from the WTO but is also undermining its authority by blocking the appointment of the WTO Appellate Body’s judges.
It might be argued that Trump is simply keeping his ill-judged electoral promises. The steel and aluminium tariffs imposed illegally on the EU and other trading partners are the result of his “America first” slogan.
The EU’s response to this protectionist measure has been prompt and firm. EU member states are often divided when it comes to trade but on this issue they spoke clearly with a single voice.
Against this background, it is fundamentally important that the EU continues strengthening its trade relations with the rest of the world.
Trade agreements with Singapore, Vietnam and Japan have been concluded and await Parliament’s ratification following approval by the Council.
I am confident that the Singapore and Japan deals can be ratified by this Parliament, although I am much less optimistic on Vietnam, due to delays in the legal scrubbing phase.
In April, the EU also finalised negotiations for a new trade agreement with Mexico, but this will certainly be for the next parliamentary mandate.
Besides their significant economic benefits, such agreements are also of geostrategic importance.
These four countries are part of the trans-Pacific partnership agreement (TPP) involving other seven Pacific-rim states including Canada, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand.
It is crucial that the EU does not lag behind while our trading partners move forward by intensifying their trade flows, particularly given that the US has withdrawn from TPP and seemingly favours protectionism over fair and open trade.
More importantly, these agreements reflect EU values. They all include provisions on labour and environmental standards as well as mechanisms to allow civil society to monitor their implementation.
The agreement with Mexico also features - for the first time - provisions on anticorruption and a stand-alone chapter on animal welfare.
But there is still work to be done. Trade negotiations with Mercosur, Indonesia and Chile are progressing, while those with Australia and New Zealand are ready to kick off. The EU can be pleased with what it has achieved in terms of trade-related legislation.
We now have in place binding rules on due diligence on conflict minerals, a new anti-dumping methodology for non-market economies like China, modernised trade defence rules, which for the first time, take social and environmental standards into account.
Meanwhile, work is being finalised for adopting a framework for screening foreign direct investments.
This shows that while the EU favours open, rules-based and values-based trade, we are not naive and we have equipped ourselves with the instruments to defend our strategic interests as well as our companies and workers from unfair competition.
Through its bilateral agreements and its actions at the WTO, the EU is demonstrating that it is prepared to stand up for an open and fair global trading system. The UK should be a key contributor to this agenda; it’s a pity we have chosen to walk away.
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