The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomes the new EU trade policy strategy. It is time to update the trade tools, analysing and quantifying trade changes, differentiating temporary and COVID-19-related changes from permanent changes.
The EESC supports an "Open, Strategic and Assertive" trade policy to improve market access and level the playing field. In practice, it must drive sustainable growth, competitiveness, decent jobs and better consumer choices via a sound mix of external and internal policies. Trade is only one part of solution.
Modernising the World Trade Organization (WTO) is the top priority to deliver a modern trade agenda with environmental and social issues (breaking down taboos). The EU should take the lead forming strategic cooperation with key partners and promoting better multilateral trade regimes and standards.
The EESC welcomes the focus on sustainability, and the Paris Agreement becoming an essential element of future trade and investment agreements. This should be extended to International Labour Organization (ILO) core conventions.
The upcoming trade and sustainable development (TSD) Review is an integral part of the EU trade strategy. The EESC calls for an ambitious strengthening of TSD chapters and their effective enforceability in EU bilateral trade and investment agreements.
Strengthening sustainability and resilience in global value chains (GVCs) is essential to level the playing field. The EU needs instruments against corruption and environmental, labour, social and human rights infringements like mandatory due diligence, new UN treaty on business and human rights, ILO convention on decent work in global supply chains, or sustainability in public procurements. Learning the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis, the EU needs a deeper grasp of GVCs' impact on people and businesses, as well as their vulnerabilities. Diversification is a tool for greater resilience, with proper monitoring mechanisms and adequate public procurement processes.
Where the WTO cannot act or fully deliver, the EU should count on wide range of FTAs that reflect EU values and international standards with leading and emerging economies in international trade. There is room for more on that front.
The EESC stresses the need to boost cooperation with civil society, from shaping to monitoring trade tools and agreements, as well at its visibility: reinstating the expert group on free trade agreements (FTAs) and strengthening Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs). Meaningful engagement with the European Parliament and civil society, notably via the EESC, to better address concerns would help ensure smoother ratification processes.
The EESC welcomes concrete actions to implement, advance and ensure effective implementation of existing EU FTAs. The Chief Trade Enforcement Officer should boost the consistency of implementation and enforcement of EU and WTO agreements, including TSD chapters.
The EESC welcomes the EU being assertive in defending EU values and trade commitments unilaterally where all other options fail. It should also factor in all possible political and economic fallouts of such decisions.
The EESC supports the EU's continued use of Aid for Trade to help developing countries implement trade agreements and support compliance with rules and standards, in particular related to sustainable development.
The EESC stresses the need to guarantee a level playing field for agriculture. European agricultural products should have better market access to third countries and mutually imported products from third countries must meet the European standards on sustainability and food safety. The EU FTAs must respect EU sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) provisions and adhere to the precautionary principle.
The EESC welcomes the special focus on small and medium size companies (SMEs) at all levels. It reiterates its call for greater efforts to communicate the impact of international trade on businesses and people.