Statement | 2 October 2020 | By Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, Commissioner-Designate for Trade
Honourable Chairman, Esteemed Members of the European Parliament,
I was honoured when President von der Leyen placed her trust in me to continue to lead our shared European trade agenda. I hope that at the end of this hearing, you too will feel satisfied that you can place your trust in me. Honourable members, you already know me. I have worked with this house on many occasions. If approved, I will have a busy and challenging range of responsibilities, but we have a saying in Latvia: the ready back gets the load. As a former MEP, I understand that this committee has to be fully involved in our trade policymaking. I look forward to working closely together with you.] As Executive Vice-President of the Commission, my job is to build an economy that works for people. Trade is a powerful positive force in this respect. It supports 1 in 7 high-quality European jobs. Of course, in today’s world, trade is about much more than just trade. European trade policy must do more to help us meet the great challenges of our time. This is why we are conducting a wide review of our trade policy.
Working with you, honourable members, And with our stakeholders and civil society, I will bring forward a new roadmap for our trade policy. This roadmap must fit into our wider plan for a sustainable and digital recovery. It must be modern and up-to-date, in support of our values and wider geopolitical goals. It must maximise opportunities for our companies around the world. It must strengthen our toolbox to defend ourselves from unfair practices. It must leverage our strength as the world’s trading powerhouse. And it must unlock doors of influence globally. Only a Europe that is open to the world can shape the trade policy for the 21st century.
So, I propose to drive our trade policy forward, in order to:
- reform the rules-based multilateral order;
- rethink trade policy to deliver on our sustainability goals;
- reinforce free and fair trade, by engaging with our partners while at the same time, strengthening our defence and enforcement; and finally,
- redouble our leadership in trade by managing our key relationships.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of my first priorities will be to reform the rules-based system of global economic governance. We need to make it fit for today’s world. This means a WTO that settles disputes quickly and efficiently, with strong rules to ensure a level playing field. A WTO with the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change at the core of its work. And a WTO responding to the digital revolution, harnessing the full potential of the free flow of data.
In this respect, I will prioritise negotiations on E-commerce. Of course, it will be very important that we uphold our GDPR rules on personal data protection. Europe has the influence and credibility to lead this reform effort. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have already put forward ideas for a trade and health initiative that would facilitate trade in essential pharmaceutical and medical goods.
I am happy to announce today that I will launch a WTO Trade and Climate Initiative, focusing on green goods and services. I look forward to discussing this with you at the earliest opportunity. Staying with sustainability and climate – trade can deliver real results here.
I would direct you to my track record on sustainable finance – Europe was the first region with proper legislation in this area, and Europe is now a global leader. My approach was never top-down, but based on reaching out, finding common ground, and building alliances. My approach will stay the same. Working with our partners is how Europe achieves results.
Every time one of our trade deals includes a Trade and Sustainable Development chapter, we are making a mutual commitment. I know we need to strengthen the enforcement of these chapters even more. So, my commitment is that I will work closely with you and with our new Chief Trade Enforcement Officer to achieve results.
The Commission will propose the respect of the Paris climate commitments as an essential element in our future agreements. We will do more to support gender equality, women’s empowerment, and labour and human rights, including strong action to eliminate child labour. We will examine how we can include more granularity in the enforcement of these chapters. And I will work closely with Commissioner Reynders to advance the Commission’s proposal on mandatory due diligence already next year.
Ladies and gentlemen, one of the most urgent sustainability issues is to protect the Amazon rainforest. These are the lungs of our planet. Our best advantage is that we have an ongoing partnership discussion with the Mercosur countries. Negotiating this agreement has taken 20 years. It is the first of its kind that Mercosur has negotiated with a global partner.
The sustainability chapter is the most progressive in any of our trade deals. It contains explicit commitments on deforestation and implementation of the Paris agreement. However, I recognise the deep concerns expressed by the honourable members, by civil society, and by our citizens. I share these concerns. Therefore, we should redouble our engagement with our Mercosur partners, and find lasting solutions for the Amazon region. This will be a critical element on the path towards ratification of the agreement.
Honourable members, openness goes hand in hand with fairness. To reinforce our commitment to free and fair trade, we must engage with our partners. While at the same time, we must strengthen our defence and enforcement. Europe needs to become more assertive. By protecting our companies, securing our strategic interests, strengthening reciprocity and levelling the playing field.
The Chief Trade Enforcement Officer will work to implement our agreements. This means removing barriers and protecting our workers, consumers and companies whenever our trade partners do not play by the rules. In addition, I will seek to strengthen our enforcement tools. With your support, I hope we can swiftly agree on the updated enforcement regulation.
We must also sharpen our trade defence tools. I will support the efforts to launch a new legal instrument dealing with distortions from foreign subsidies in our internal market. I will work with Member States to ensure that screening mechanisms for Foreign Direct Investment are working well on the ground. I will also look for your help to conclude the work on dual-use exports and the International Procurement Instrument. And to strengthen our hand in defending the EU against the unfair practices of others, I will bring forward a proposal next year for a new anti-coercion mechanism.
In parallel with defending ourselves better, we need to help our companies, in particular our SMEs – to derive maximum benefit from our Free Trade Agreements. This is critical for our future economic prospects, given that in the next decade, 85% of global growth will take place outside the EU. Therefore, I am very pleased to announce that later this month I will launch the Access2Markets portal. This will be a one-stop-shop, in all EU languages, to help SMEs navigate the world of international trade. I look forward to your strong participation in this high-level event.
Ladies and gentlemen, All the goals I have outlined require our global partnerships to be strong and responsive. The Transatlantic trade and investment relationship remains the global engine of prosperity. I will spare no effort in revitalising our strategic partnership with the United States. I will bring a fresh impetus to transatlantic work on trade, technology, taxation, and reform of the multilateral trading system, including disciplines on industrial subsidies. The recent deal on tariff reductions represents the first step of a renewed cooperation. However, if the U.S. continues to disengage from multilateralism and pursue unilateral actions, the EU will not hesitate to defend its interests and respond in a proportionate way.
Let me turn now from the United States to China. We need to pursue a results-oriented engagement with Beijing. I co-chair the High Level Economic Dialogue with China in my current role. This gives me a clear understanding of the political and economic reality. We will work to enhance our trade and investment relationship with China – notably by concluding the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. However, our partnership must be restructured to be reciprocal, balanced and fair. European companies in China need fair treatment and real market access.
Closer to home, I see Africa as a key partner for Europe. Africa is on our doorstep. It is the continent with the highest growth potential in the world: by 2050, Africa will represent around 75% of the growth of the global workforce. I am committed to reinforcing our economic partnership agreements with Africa, building resilient value chains and boosting sustainable public and private investment in sectors of mutual interest. Our long-term objective is to achieve a continent-to-continent agreement.
Moving still a little closer, we need to enhance our cooperation with our neighbourhood region. These relationships are an important aspect of our trade policy with a strong geopolitical dimension. Likewise, we must continue to support EU candidates and potential candidates, including through the extension of our autonomous trade measures. I count on the co-legislators to have the new regulation in place in time.And I very much welcome the recent vote in the INTA committee in this regard.
I would like to say a few words on our negotiations with the United Kingdom. It is in the strong interest of both sides to construct the closest possible trading relationship. But I should underline that progress will depend on both sides respecting their commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement. Both the Commission and the Parliament have been very clear on this point.
To conclude, honourable members, all the steps I have outlined will feed into the ongoing review of our trade policy. This will help us to design the new direction for EU trade, based on the concept of open strategic autonomy. If confirmed, I will come back to this house regularly to engage with you on all these issues. I will also maintain an active outreach to civil society. As proof of my commitment to a wide and inclusive approach, a series of dedicated civil society dialogues will start already next month. I pledge to maintain a high degree of transparency in my dealings with the European Parliament. I will ensure that you have all the information you need, in good time. I want to reassure the group coordinators that I have taken good note of the expectations you expressed in the context of my predecessor’s hearing last year. I hope you recognise that this has inspired the programme I have put before you today.
Let me conclude by saying that we live in unprecedented times. We face increasing challenges at home and abroad. Working together, we can design a strong European plan to address these challenges. Working together, we can future-proof Europe’s trade policy.
Compliments of the European Commission.