“Terrorism, migration, climate change, protectionism, and a feeling of mistrust between the people and their national governments or EU institutions are the biggest challenges the EU is facing” European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström told the audience at a student debate which took place in the Arts Lecture Theatre at the University of Malta recently.
“However, with the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty, it is important to remember that no country can tackle these issues on its own and that we work best together” she said.
MrsMalmström, who is in Malta for trade ministerial meetings with the trade ministers of the European Union, began her talk by explaining that trade is an area where the advantages of working together are obvious.
The EU, she said, is not only the leader in advancing regulations to protect the environment but is also “the biggest single market, has a leading role in the World Trade Organisation, has trade based on international rules and regulations, and also enables countries to become equal partners with the world’s largest economies.
“We are also able to defend ourselves from unfair trade by imposing trade sanctions.”
EU global trade is continuously developing, she said, and is currently in negotiations with around 20 countries around the world including the USA, Japan, and China.
However, she did say that negations with the USA, specifically in regards to TTIP, were “paused for the moment”.
“We’re waiting on the new American administration to announce a new trade representative. However, it does look like it is a protectionist government which will disengage from international trading.”
She did maintain that the USA does remain an important global partner.
The Commissioner then said that the Canadian trade deal, which was concluded and recently adopted by the EU, will be substantially beneficial to Europe.
“Exports to Canada support one million EU jobs, and will see 98% of tariffs disappear from day one”
She admited that more needs to be done in order to address the issues raised by sceptics of the benefit of global trade.
“There has been a lot of discussion about how global trade will influence our lives and we do have plenty of challenges in spite of the economic improvement experienced throughout Europe such as unemployment and social exclusion.”
“It is looking brighter and we are always trying to contribute more”
“Trade agreements are essential in shaping globalization. They need to be effective and benefit citizens and companies” she said.
Transparency, she explained, is essential in globalization and it is why all tax proposals and summaries during trade deals negotiations are available online.
“We also engage in consultation with unions, states, NGOs, businesses during trade negotiations”
When faced with a question regarding the EU’s transparency, specifically with regards to TTIP, Mrs Malmström said that “when TTIP was launched there wasn’t much interest and pressure, but we should have been transparent from the beginning.”
This trend of transparency will continue, she said, since it is essential in building better trust and efficiency between the EU and its citizens.
Mrs Malmström declined to answer when asked which post-Brexit scenario, as presented by EU Commission President Jean Claude Junker, she would choose, explaining that her opinion did not matter as it was presented to boost the debate amongst the EU population.
On Brexit, she began by recognizing the cultural and historic relationship between Malta and the EU.
“Once the EU receives a formal notification, the negotiations will start”
“Our approach will be based on EU principles. Non-EU members can never have the same rights and benefits as member states”
“The single market and its four freedoms are indivisible”
She maintained that the agreement will be good for both the EU and the UK.
Trade with developing nations
Developing countries also have easier access to EU trade, she said. This raised a number of questions from the audience with a lecturer asking Mrs Malmström how to deal with countries which have poor democratic records such as Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan.
On Tunisia, Mrs Malmström said that, as the country who has emerged from the Arab spring with relative positivity, it was important to give it the economic tools to achieve politically stability.
She added that while the EU attempts to promote democratic values in the agreements, it could not intervene on the country’s sovereignty.