The EconPol Europe's Second Annual Conference took place on 19-20 November 2018 in Brussels. It was a high-quality conference attended mainly be economists and focusing on highly relevant themes to the euro area. On the first day, the focus was on international trade and the risks posed by protectionism, trade distorting measures and the departure from multilateral trade and rule-based agreements. Hence, the need for modernising WTO and recognising the role the EU needs to play to bring this about. However, as EESC member Philip von Brockdorff pointed out, the EU cannot do this alone; hence it is extremely important to continue to seek for and sign international trade deals that can help us pass the challenges of globalisation. As regards the EU–US relations, it is necessary to prevent escalation of protectionism, while deepening the strategic alliance between the EU and the US. On the other hand, the cooperation with Africa needs to be intensified. Regarding China, the general conclusion was that the EU must push for the Chinese domestic market liberalisation as much as possible.
Mr Philip von Brockdorff and Mr Mihai Ivascu represented the EESC's ECO section also at the three sessions during the second day of the conference, which centred around issues such as productivity and the economic challenges facing the euro area. On productivity, there was a presentation of an econometric study that captured the determinants of productivity and discussed what effectively is limiting productivity in the euro area. Of course, productivity varies from Member State to Member State but, in essence, the EU is lagging behind the US and China. More needs to be done to enhance human capital and embrace new technologies in the euro area. Put differently, the euro area needs to do much more in terms of innovation-led growth (beyond investment-led growth). Indeed, this together with the challenges posed by developments in international trade, represent the biggest challenges for continued economic growth. In this respect, the EU has an important role to play in achieving sustained upward convergence between and within its Member States, especially through the European Semester.