EUROPEAN TRADE POLICY AT A TIME OF ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION AND GEOPOLITICAL INSTABILITY: PREPARING FOR THE WORLD OF 2030 Trade is one of the EU’s most powerful tools. It is at the centre of Europe’s economic prosperity and competitiveness, supporting a vibrant internal market and assertive external action. As a result of the openness of our trade regime, the EU is the world’s largest trader of agricultural and manufactured goods and services and ranks first in both inbound and outbound international investments. Thanks to the common commercial policy, the EU speaks with one voice on the global scene. This is a unique lever.
With new internal and external challenges and more particularly a new, more sustainable growth model as defined by the European Green Deal and the European Digital Strategy, the EU needs a new trade policy strategy – one that will support achieving its domestic and external policy objectives and promote greater sustainability in line with its commitment of fully implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Trade policy must play its full role in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and in the green and digital transformations of the economy and towards building a more resilient Europe in the world.
Making the right policy choices in designing a trade policy for the world of 2030 means taking into account recent political, economic technological, environmental and social shifts and the global trends emerging from them.
Global uncertainty is on the rise fuelled by political and geo-economic tensions. Instead of international cooperation and multilateral governance, there is growing unilateralism, with the consequent disruption or bypassing of multilateral institutions. These trends have their roots in several developments.
First, globalisation, technological evolutions and the build-up of global value chains have had a dichotomous impact on economies and societies. On the one hand, they have created massive efficiency gains, fuelling sustained, trade-led economic growth in many parts of the world. This has helped to lift millions of people out of poverty. On the other hand, these developments sometimes have had a strong disruptive effect leading to growing inequalities and leaving some individuals and communities behind. What were expected to be transitory adjustment costs have sometimes turned into permanent losses in living standards, employment opportunities or wages and other working conditions. In many cases, governments are perceived to have been insufficiently responsive to economic adjustments and mitigating their negative impacts . This has led to calls for de-globalisation and to the rise of inwardlooking and isolationist reactions.
Second, the rapid rise of China, demonstrating global ambitions and pursuing a distinct statecapitalist model, has fundamentally changed the global economic and political order. This poses increasing challenges for the established global economic governance system and affects a level playing field for European companies competing globally and at home.3
Third, the acceleration of climate change, together with biodiversity loss and environmental degradation, paired with tangible examples of their devastating effects have led to the recognition of the green transition as the defining objective of our time.
The European Green Deal is the EU’s new growth strategy which facilitates resetting our economic policy to better correspond to the challenges of the 21st century. Its overarching objective is the transition towards a climate neutral, environmentally sustainable, resource efficient and resilient economy by 2050, with the ambition to reduce GHG emissions by at least 55% by 2030 as well as the protection, conservation and enhancement of the EU’s natural capital. As such, it will be the driving force behind our competitiveness and will lead to a progressive but profound transformation of our economies, which in turn will have a strong bearing on trade patterns.
The green transition needs to go together with social equity. A serious decent work deficit persists in global supply chains in many parts of the world, from serious violations of freedom of association to poor working conditions5 . Depriving workers of their fundamental rights puts downward pressure on social conditions globally and fuels people’s disenchantment with globalisation and open trade.
Fourth, the digital transformation is another key enabler of sustainable development, but also a space of competition and inadequate multilateral governance. As it embarks on its Digital Decade, supporting Europe’s digital transformation is a priority both in internal and external policies including trade policy and instruments. At the same time, the nature oftrade will continue to evolve. It will become more innovation-driven, supported by intellectual property (IP) protection, with an increasing role of services trade compared to goods.6 Services not only contribute directly to the value chain (financial services, telecommunication, IT, transport and logistics) but – often even more importantly – they contribute by being incorporated in manufacturing products. The servicification of the economy and the rise of digital technologies have created well-paid and high quality jobs and have fuelled economic growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated and focused attention on these shifts, while creating challenges of its own. It has highlighted the interconnected nature of economies, which rely on stable and predictable international rules and resilient transportation channels. It has exposed the risk of a breakdown of global cooperation and trust. It has also raised questions regarding the right policy mix in terms of diversification of domestic and external sources of supply and the build-up of strategic production capacities and reserves. It has also shown the importance of expanding production of health products in a crisis situation and the need for cooperation to ensure equitable access for the more vulnerable populations. Moreover, it has led to a significant increase in government support and involvement in the economy, which is necessary to rescue healthy companies and protect jobs, but may not be sustainable in the long-run and may generate tensions.
Finally, the economic outlook across the globe needs to be factored in. The EU will remain a global economic power and a leader on sustainable growth. The latest OECD long-term forecasts indicate that real GDP in the euro area will increase by 1.4% annually (compounded annual growth rate) over the next 10 years7 . Nevertheless, these growth prospects will be eclipsed by developments in other regions, and Europe’s relative position in the international economy will change. Already in 2024, 85% of the world’s GDP growth is expected to come from outside the EU. The continued rise of China will impact heavily on global economic developments over the next 10 years – the OECD predicts Chinese GDP will grow by 4.7% annually.
EU trade policy has to take into account these global trends and challenges to reflect the political ambition of ‘a stronger Europe in the world’8 . It should also respond to the expectations of stakeholders as signalled in discussion with Member States, the resolution adopted by the European Parliament9 and the views expressed in the public consultation.COM-2021-66-F1-EN-MAIN-PART-1
To read the original policy review by the European Commission, please click here.