The role of the EU's trade and investment policies in enhancing the EU's economic performance (own-initiative opinion)

EESC opinion: The role of the EU's trade and investment policies in enhancing the EU's economic performance (own-initiative opinion)

Key points:

  • The (EESC reminds the incoming European Commission and Parliament of its recommendations made in a series of recent key opinions on EU trade and investment policies. We urge that these be incorporated in any new Trade Strategy. EU trade and investment policy has become subject to scrutiny and political examination as never before. The EU must win sufficient internal consensus to enable it to continue to negotiate beneficial and dynamic trade agreements around the world. To do that, it needs to promote a progressive trade agenda that builds on the protection of fundamental environmental, social and consumer standards and rights
  • First, the EESC believes it is essential that the EU ensures the smooth and fair operation of the Internal Market and the Eurozone. This goal needs to cover a very wide range of separate policies, ranging from transport and energy to better integration of services, to providing a legally robust and socially protected framework for the evolution of digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI). It must also include even-handed EU regulation and policies that promote conditions that help businesses to take the lead in developing and applying new technologies that maintain competitiveness, whilst ensuring growth and decent jobs as part of a fair transition.
  • The EESC calls for the incoming Commission to use every endeavour to ensure that Horizon Europe becomes an effective, resilient and robust follow-up to Horizon 2020.
  • The encouragement and development of human skills is also fundamentally important. The EESC believes that emphasis must be placed in helping individual skills to be readily adapted through lifelong learning, increased emphasis on multilingualism and readily adaptable training programmes, as opposed to trying unsuccessfully to turn humans into better computers. The needs and potential of SMEs must be included in every policy area to help secure their access to finance and other resources, as well as support their ability to evolve.
  • Turning to the actual operation of trade, the EESC repeats its call for the EU, in supporting the WTO, to show global leadership in promoting rules to realise a progressive, fair and sustainable trade policy. It must continue to work closely with others to reform the WTO, not least to establish rules that ensure countries respect and implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Here, the EU and its Member States should use their leverage and advocacy throughout the various WTO committee structures, especially covering those new areas such as trade and decent work.
  • The EESC sees it as vital that EU trade and investment policy address all significant consequences of market opening, and limit negative impacts as far as possible, including social and transitional costs. The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund must, under any Multiannual Financial Framework, provide for sufficient funding to cover negative trade impacts and any limiting conditions and criteria for its application be re-examined.
  • The EESC again emphasises that nothing in a trade agreement must be allowed to limit the public policy space of governments to regulate, as they see fit. The EESC restates its belief that enforcing Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) through trade policy is important in enhancing the EU's global trading position and in supporting sustainability, the EESC calls on the new Commission to reconfirm its Horizontal Provisions for cross-border data flows and for personal data protection in EU trade and investment agreements.
  • The EESC believes that a more fundamental policy discussion on the role of trade and investment is essential to ensure a greater understanding of both its drivers and economic impact. EU evaluation policy needs to focus more on assessing qualitative elements of trade agreements, with the full involvement of civil society and the EESC.
  • The EESC again strongly urges that the EEAS must become more trade aware.Equally, the EESC repeats its call for a closer, more coherent and transparent cross-collaboration between DG Trade and other Directorates-General, most notably DEVCO and EMPL.
  • The EESC demands that dialogue with civil society on trade and investment policy throughout and beyond negotiations must become far more profound and its monitoring role be strengthened. This dialogue must be developed on a basis of further transparency and continuous improvement,
  • The EESC was foremost in welcoming the emphasis in "Trade for All" on sustainable development, especially in human and social rights and the environment, and the inclusion of Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters in all new-generation trade agreements. These need to become core to the promotion of EU trade and investment policy. Effective enforceability is now key to realising these commitments to ensuring a level playing field for EU businesses abroad.
  • The EESC has previously recommended both that there should be a specific clause to promote the SDGs in all future mandates for TSD chapters, and that, following the Paris Agreement, combating global warming should now also be included as an integral part of EU values.
  • Increased trade flows will mean further increases in transport, where greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are already notably high. The EESC therefore calls both that all modes of transport become part of an enhanced sustainable and just transport policy, and that a clear policy link between trade and transport be established, not least in meeting the relevant SDG commitments.