The EESC issues between 160 and 190 opinions and information reports a year.
It also organises several annual initiatives and events with a focus on civil society and citizens’ participation such as the Civil Society Prize, the Civil Society Days, the Your Europe, Your Say youth plenary and the ECI Day.
The EESC brings together representatives from all areas of organised civil society, who give their independent advice on EU policies and legislation. The EESC's326 Members are organised into three groups: Employers, Workers and Various Interests.
The EESC has six sections, specialising in concrete topics of relevance to the citizens of the European Union, ranging from social to economic affairs, energy, environment, external relations or the internal market.
Fostering international trade is beneficial for companies, consumers and employees. In 15 years' time, 90% of global demand will come from outside the EU. Therefore, establishing a simple and predictable trade policy should be a priority for the EU as one of the main factors in boosting growth and creating new jobs. The participants at the conference on the Role of international trade in the reindustrialisation of Europe discussed the future of EU trade policy, the role of FTAs and how to revive European industry through trade and investment. The conference took place in Milan on 26 October and was organised by the EESC Employers' Group, together with Confcommercio and AICE (Italian Association of Foreign Trade).
The EU is the top trading partner for 80 countries and its global exports provide over 31 million jobs across Europe, stated Claudio Rotti, President of AICE and Member of the Employers' Group. In his opinion, the priority for any future EU trade policy is to ensure trade that is fluid, free, simple and predictable. Both bilateral and multilateral agreements have their role to play in this process.
Jacek Krawczyk, President of the Employers' Group, pointed out that FTA negotiations have changed significantly over the years. The ongoing negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are a visible example of growing interest in such agreements on the part of broader society and of growing misunderstandings around the issues. Mr Krawczyk underlined that business has a significant role to play in explaining the potential benefits of the TTIP and other FTAs. The Employers' Group consequently supports the agreement and is closely monitoring the negotiation process.
Maurizio Bernardo, President of the Italian Parliament's Finance Commission, emphasised that international trade and investment are important tools for boosting Italy's competitiveness in the aftermath of the crisis. He drew participants' attention to the fact that economic powers such as China are liberalising trade. He welcomed the new EU communication entitled "Trade for all", which will shape trade policy in the years to come. Mr Bernardo also explained that the Italian Parliament had already taken measures to actively promote international trade in order to make the production system and support services more competitive, to simplify trade for SMEs and to give new impetus to e-commerce. In his view, alongside the work done by the EU, the Member States also have an important role to play in promoting trade.
Free trade agreements as tools for international business development
The discussion panel focussed on free trade agreements as tools for international business development. Jonathan Peel, Member of the Employers' Group and EESC rapporteur on trade policy welcomed the latest proposal of the European Commission. In his view, the Commission has listened closely to key concerns raised by civil society.
David Doninotti, Secretary General of AICE emphasised the importance of strategic imports. 80% of the EU's imports are energy sources, raw materials and parts, components and capital goods (such as machinery). As EU production depends heavily on these imports, Europe should open its economy to them and attract new investment. In Mr Doninotti's view, Member States have to move beyond a sometimes over-protectionist approach in areas such as financial services, sales, and logistics. The goal should be ambitious FTAs that guarantee the highest standards. Moreover, no agreement should affect education or healthcare - sectors where individual countries must retain their sovereignty.
Ruta Zarnauskaite from DG Trade outlined the main objectives of the new trade strategy and explained why the Commission had decided to update the policy. The new proposal is based on three pillars: effectiveness, transparency and values. Ms Zarnauskaite underlined the fact that SMEs' needs were widely reflected throughout the document and not only in the chapter devoted to SMEs. More details about the proposal can be found on the Commission's website: (http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/new-trade-strategy/)
Gianluigi Zenti, entrepreneur and food business expert, presented his experiences of doing business with the US. He pointed out that access to the US market is extremely expensive – mainly due to the cost of placing products in supermarkets and the costs of marketing. He estimated that USD 50 million per year for a minimum of 5 years is needed to bring a new product onto the US market.
Luisa Santos, Director for International relations at BUSINESSEUROPE, stated that trade agreements are key competitiveness drivers for EU industries and services. In her opinion, the EU must be more offensive than defensive in trade, as 70% of our imports are already duty free: most of our competitors can already sell their products in our market without paying duties. With regard to investment, Ms Santos was critical of the European Commission's proposals. She underlined that investors need protection, whereas the current proposal focusses too much on States' right to regulate and not enough on investors' right to be protected. Ms Santos also made the point that overall tax burdens in the EU are 50% higher than in the US. This puts EU businesses at a disadvantage to their competitors.