Phil Hogan: Showing the value of trade policy

In today’s world, EU trade policy is about much more than trade; it is a vehicle for promoting our values and standards around the world explains Phil Hogan.
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By Phil Hogan

09 Mar 2020

On a basic economic level, trade helps to create jobs and wealth in Europe. Our single market of 446 million consumers makes us highly attractive as a trading partner. That is why countries and regional blocs all around the world are lining up to sign deals with us.

In recent years, we have signed tremendous “win-win” agreements with Canada, Mexico and Japan, to name but a few. The early indications are that these deals are increasing export opportunities for our businesses.

We estimate that every €1bn in exports supports some 14,000 high-quality jobs in Europe. And our consumers welcome improved access to affordable, top quality products and services from around the world.


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However, our trade relationships generate more than just economic benefits; when you sit down at the negotiating table with someone, if you conduct your business with fairness and respect, it brings you closer together.

Signing deals with global partners builds trust and understanding, which in turn means increased opportunities to cooperate in other areas of policy. On that basis, we want to use our network of trade deals as leverage to improve standards worldwide.

This is one way to ensure “a more geopolitical Europe”, in the words of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The European Union is a regulatory superpower. This means that we are often at the head of the pack when it comes to setting standards worldwide.

"Our global partners look to us for leadership in a wide range of areas. We are leading the way in climate action, global institutional reform, data protection, and a huge number of other areas. So, when we sign trade agreements, we expect our partners to meet our standards"

Our global partners look to us for leadership in a wide range of areas. We are leading the way in climate action, global institutional reform, data protection and a huge number of other areas. So, when we sign trade agreements, we expect our partners to meet our standards.

Take data protection; our EU regulation in this complex policy area is viewed as a global trendsetter and has been adopted by many other countries.

Or take climate action; Europe is already a global leader in implementing the COP21 targets, but our ambition has been turbocharged by President von der Leyen’s flagship initiative, the European Green Deal.

Our recent trade agreements have contained a Trade and Sustainable Development chapter, including legally binding commitments to effectively implement the Paris Agreement.

This was a step in the right direction; but for our future trade agreements, we will go even further, tying in the Paris Climate Agreement as an essential element. Another area where we are hoping to find common ground with our partners is on the rules governing global trade.

We want trade to remain free, fair, and underpinned by clear and appropriate laws. Unfortunately, we live in an era where other global players are increasingly looking inwards rather than outwards. China and the US have in recent years acted unilaterally and sometimes outside the international rulebook.

This presents many problems and risks undermining the global order that has served the world so well in recent decades. The current global rulebook does not adequately address some of the most trade-distorting measures, such as industrial subsidies.

Our vision is for a stable multilateral system that reflects today’s global economy, including new challenges such as technology and the digital space, the climate crisis, security and migration. Therefore, our short term priority is to build coalitions to spearhead reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

That is the key to unlocking the current impasse at global level. The existing rulebook is out of date, and the rules-based multilateral system has drifted away from economic and business realities. The WTO needs a profound overhaul, not just tweaking at the margins.

"I recently announced a new set of initiatives to make more aspects of our trade negotiations available to the public. I am determined not to backtrack, but to build on our transparency achievements"

Thankfully there are some green shoots of hope: the EU, US and Japan recently pledged to work together to strengthen global rules on industrial subsidies. This shows that progress can be made, and in time we expect further positive breakthroughs.

Finally, I warmly welcome President von der Leyen’s commitment to ensure the highest level of transparency, communication and cooperation with the European Parliament and civil society as we elaborate our EU trade agenda for the coming decade.

We are already the world’s most transparent public authority when it comes to trade policy, and during my mandate we will take strong steps to do even more. I recently announced a new set of initiatives to make further aspects of our trade negotiations available to the public.

I am determined not to backtrack, but rather to build on our transparency achievements. Transparency alone is not enough. We need to do more to open up conversation with people. Our recent Eurobarometer shows that there is overall support for EU trade. It also shows that people have questions, doubts and fears.

It is an important responsibility to speak to people about this – and to listen to them. We intend to do exactly that online, on social media, in person through Citizens’ Dialogues and at other events. I am highly appreciative of the Parliament’s engagement on this.

I have seen interesting materials from the Parliament – videos, images, testimonials and more, particularly from MEPs on the International Trade Committee. We need to show the value of trade policy, and MEPs are in a better place than anyone to ensure that the people’s voice is heard, and that they are well informed.

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