This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2017

Belgium  – Brussels – After a turbulent 2016 in international trade (questioning of the TTIP on both Atlantic coasts, Wallonia blocking the CETA signature process etc.), 2017 promises to be equally dense and will oblige us to define which European trade policy we want.

First of all, it is worth remembering that the EU trade policy is one of the founding policies of the Union.  All the criticisms, which the EU trade policy is facing, certainly reflect the current questions that the European citizens have about the European Union, its values and its objectives.

However, in the context of contested international trading practices and beyond the whole process of globalization, the figures point out that one in seven jobs in Europe depends on exports and that we cannot ignore the key role of trade in our economy.

Where will we seek out European growth and jobs if we turn our back on our trade policy?

International trade has intensified for several years, but at the same time, the WTO is losing momentum and experiencing a crisis that is akin to a deadlock. Any reform or relaunch appear to be compromised and several WTO members, including the EU, have therefore chosen to negotiate free trade agreements on a bilateral basis in order to develop their trade relations.

The opening of new markets is an opportunity for our economic players, especially our SMEs, and can contribute to enhance the European economic growth as well as to create new jobs.

Furthermore, at a time when Asia gains, everyday, more and more economic power, the European Union cannot be left out of this international dynamic. For many years, Europe has set exemplary standards  ensuring better consumer safety and guaranteeing the competitiveness of our companies. Why should the EU not use its experience and these trade negotiations as an opportunity to fix  European standards as global references? Future international trade practices and rules cannot be minimum standards, the EU must move forward and share its expertise.

However, the intensification of trade negotiations in recent years has raised fears and questions.

Discourses have created and strengthened the feeling that trade agreements would modify the European social model.

As a member of the European Parliament, I would like to clarify this point: we will never accept a trade agreement which opens the EU market to chlorinated chicken, nor which would allow the destruction of our agricultural model or which would endanger our public services. The European Union is based on common values and every European policy must respect them and promote them. The European model cannot be sacrificed on the altar of free trade. Trade agreements cannot be concluded at any price and the negotiations must be conducted in a spirit of reciprocity and mutual benefits.

In order to counter these discourses that intend to destroy any perspective of trade, negotiations need to be made more transparent. Each actor must fulfill its role and contribute to a constructive and inclusive dialogue. Hence, it is fundamental that negotiating mandates are published in order to be able to assimilate the objectives of each negotiation and the basis on which it is established.

The European Commission must disseminate more information on the ongoing negotiations and create a dialogue with civil society and businesses. At the same time, Member States have a role to play in the transmission of information at the national level and must cease their double-speaks which prevent any clarification of the debate, sow trouble and cause a loss of public confidence. Moreover, the European Parliament and national parliaments must also be kept informed.

The Walloon episode has undermined the credibility of the European Union on the international stage. The long and complex procedures of mixed agreements may endanger the credibility of our policy. How would a trading partner agree to negotiate with us if the European Union can at the last moment destroy an ambitious and balanced agreement after several years of negotiation?

The unity of the European Union and the trust of citizens in the EU must be restored as soon as possible. There is also a need to communicate more about the benefits of trade agreements; for example, the effects of the agreement with Korea are widely ignored and yet : since the trade deal entered into force, EU exports to Korea have increased by 55%. This type of information is too often left behind in favor of discourses which distort reality.

Finally, the European Union trade policy cannot be summarized merely by the negotiation of free trade agreements. Europe also aims, through this policy, to fight against any unfair competition that our companies could face. The current trade defense instruments of the European Union have been established more than twenty years ago and there is an urgent need for them to be more reactive, more efficient and more accessible, in particular for our SMEs. In this context, the debate on the question of China’s market economy status reminds us how the EU should act in order to protect the European industry.

In the face of so many cases of dumping, Europe must stop being naive and must be offensive. China is not a market economy and we must firmly arm our businesses to fight against any case of unfair competition, from any country. Unfair trading practices must not harm our economy and our jobs.

And the EU trade policy is also about promoting a more responsible, fair and balanced trade. Consumers want to know more about the production methods, the actors involved in the supply chain and the origin of the different components of any product in the EU market. Again, the European Union must provide information and ensure that our trade practices meet the values that we defend and promote to our partners. However, all this must be achieved without harming our businesses and ensuring that their competitiveness on the international scene.

At a crossroads of questions about the relevance of the European Union and globalization, our trade policy must be able to renew itself.

It is by standing for clear and shared objectives in accordance with our values and interests that the European Union will be able to prove that its project is still useful and crucial for Europeans and for the rest of the world.