In the week before Christmas we brought together a selection of Brussels’ trade policy community to discuss the EU’s future role and relevance in the in the global trade system. FH Brussels’ Senior Policy Advisor and former Counsellor at the Danish Permanent Representation, Martin Bresson took the chair on this provocative topic and invited representatives from both inside and outside of Europe to comment on whether the EU will continue to be a global trade leader, and more importantly, how this can be ensured.
Our speakers; Ms. Signe Ratso, Director for Trade Strategy and Analysis, as well as Market Access at the European Commission’s DG TRADE; Ms Carolyn Irving, Trade Counsellor at the Australian Mission to the EU; and Mr Luciano Mazza de Andrade, Head of Trade and Economic Section of the Brazilian Mission to the EU; first explored the EU’s current role and status as an important global trading partner.
While it was acknowledged that Europe has faced economic difficulties that could be seen as threatening to this status, we were reminded that the EU remains one of the largest and most diverse economies in the world, the largest importer of many global goods and services and an important source and destination for investment. Furthermore, the EU has the ambition and political capacity to push the free trade agenda – the success of the EU-Korea FTA being an important example, as well as numerous others in the pipeline which are projected to add over 2% to GDP and create more than 2 million jobs.
Similarly, Europe’s trading partners around the table echoed the continuing relevance of the EU, insisting on symbiotic nature of trading partners – that each economy’s health is reliant on others.
However, challenges certainly remain that may be hampering the realisation of the full benefits of global trade. One concern was the complexity of the EU’s political structure and ambitious regulatory agenda, which can bring rigidity to trade processes and positions. A further specific example is Europe’s protective position on agricultural markets; a topic that it was humorously noted is often ‘politely ignored’ in trade discussions. Challenges for business focused on more detailed issues; namely the enforcement of FTAs once implemented and regulatory cooperation with trading partners to increase business certainty.
Despite the challenges of the EU’s complex institution structure and politics the resounding message was that the EU continues to be more than the sum of its (27) parts and has a role, if not an obligation, to continue leading on the global trade agenda. That being said, it will be necessary for the EU not to lose sight of the details which can trip up trade even in the context of the broadest and most comprehensive FTA.