The European Economic and Social Committee would like to reiterate its commitment to the WTO as the guardian of international trade and a crucible for developing rules and disciplines to ensure fair trade, the liberalisation of trade in goods and services, and transparency in trade-related policy-making.
International trade is governed by a complex mixture of global rules agreed under World Trade Organization and bilateral and multilateral agreements. The free trade agreements are having a growing impact on citizens' rights. Under the Lisbon Treaty, EU trade policy must be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the Union’s external action, including promotion of the rule of law, human rights and sustainable development.
We believe that this trend should be a guiding principle in EU trade negotiations and in trade relations. The fact that we at the EESC reconcile the positions and views of business, workers, professionals, farmers, consumers and other important stakeholders contributes real added value. We are in a position to efficiently relay the opinions of civil society and interest groups to international policy-makers both during negotiations and in the implementation of trade agreements. We have set up a Follow-up Committee on International trade to ensure that civil society has a say in the shaping of EU trade policy. We are also managing the Domestic Advisory groups set up under the trade and sustainable development chapters of the EU "new generation" trade agreements. These groups, composed of civil society representatives (from inside and outside the EESC) are responsible for identifying trade and sustainable development-related problems in the implementation of a trade agreement.
The EU has one of the world's most open investment regimes, and collectively EU Member States have the fewest restrictions in the world on foreign direct investment (FDI). The OECD expressly acknowledged this in its FDI Regulatory Restrictiveness Index which measures statutory barriers against foreign investment in over 60 countries.
The Commission's reflection paper of 10 May 2017 on Harnessing Globalisation recognised increasing concerns about foreign investors' strategic acquisitions of European companies with key technologies. These concerns called into question the capacity of the current regulatory framework to address them.
The EESC has played an important role in raising awareness of EU trade policy among civil society both in the EU and in third countries. The EESC encourages the Commission to strengthen its dialogue with civil society to develop the functioning of TSD chapters in current and future trade agreements. However, the EESC urges the Commission to be more ambitious in its approach, in particular with respect to strengthening effective enforceability of the commitments in TSD chapters, which is of crucial importance to the EESC. TSD chapters must be given equal weight to those covering commercial, technical or tariff issues.
The Commission recently published a Communication on a Renewed Partnership with the ACP Group of countries. ACP-EU relations are currently governed by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that will expire in 2020, therefore the Commission has published recommendations on what the future structure should be. Last year the EESC already drafted a general opinion on the post-Cotonou framework; this new opinion will have to answer specifically to the Commission's communication.
The 2030 UN Agenda, or the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, will be one of the top global priorities over the next 15 years, yet it received very little mention in the Commission Communication "Trade for all". Trade is specifically mentioned with regard to nine SDGs (but only once in the MDGs). UNCTAD estimate that, to meet the 17 goals and the 169 targets, at least an extra US$2.5 trillion a year will need to be found - effectively from the private sector. This opinion would seek to look into this further and aim to evaluate how much of that will need to come through trade and investment.
A pro-active mindset in business is needed to open up to increasing flows of data and develop the ability to process big data. Flexible and more adaptable business models must be put in place in the context of the current transformation process.
The Commission should carry out a precise analysis of the state of play and of defensive attitudes to the free flow of data in the Member States in order to remove unjustified barriers by putting the right legal and technical provisions in place. Removing unjustified barriers to free flow of data should be an integral part of a Europe-wide industrial policy. Opening up of national markets should also be covered by the European Semester.
As a matter of principle, contractual freedom in the private sector should be respected. A general EU framework for standards is desirable but standards should in no way hamper innovation. Portability should be promoted.
In its opinion the EESC underlines that the social economy is a key player and helps to achieve the objectives of all European policies with an external dimension: external and security policy, trade policy, neighbourhood policy, climate change policy, development cooperation and sustainable development policy. However, the lack of an appropriate regulatory environment, at both European and national level, prevents this sector from developing its full potential and maximising its impact. The Commission and the Member States must promote the participation, consultation and coordination of their external entrepreneurial and development cooperation activities with the bodies representing the social economy at European and national level, as well as with those of partner countries, and with international social economy organisations with a North-South and South-South dimension.
The EESC is committed to open and fair trade and recognises its value as a driver of growth and jobs. Therefore, the EESC calls for a level playing field between European and third country exporting producers, and for effective trade defence instruments. The EESC supports the Commission's proposal that the dumping margin should be calculated not using the standard methodology, but on the basis of benchmarks that take account of significantly distorted production and sale costs. The EESC points out that in its 2016 opinion on preserving sustainable jobs and growth in the steel industry, it already called for the standard methodology not to be used in anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations into Chinese imports as long as the country failed to meet the EU's five criteria for market economy status. The EESC welcomes the Commission's intention of using specific criteria to determine whether there are significant distortions in the market situation.