I represented the United Kingdom at the Spanish presidency’s Trade Ministers’ informal dinner on 21 February. I welcomed the presidency’s constructive highlighting of the importance of external trade for the economic strength of member states, and the importance of open and fair markets globally as the world emerges from the current economic crisis. I pointed to the importance of trade and exports to help tackle unemployment, currently at 10 per cent across the EU-27 member states. The EU needed an open, fair trading system for our global competitiveness. I was pleased that my comments were reflected well in the new Commissioner, Karel de Gucht’s response, and I look forward to the UK working closely with the new Commission to deliver this critically important agenda.
I emphasised the importance of reaching a balanced conclusion to the Doha development round. Only through the multilateral trade structures can we address the unfair and unbalanced array of trade barriers which prevent growth, particularly in developing countries. But I also said that the United Kingdom welcomed EU progress on reaching free trade agreements, which were a stepping stone to a multilateral agreement. I welcomed the initialling of the agreement with Korea—with potential value of €19 billion for the EU—and stressed the importance to the UK and EU of free trade agreements with India and Singapore. On a free trade agreement with Andean countries currently under negotiation I was clear that we would need reassurances of adequate and appropriate human rights provisions.
I warmly welcomed a renewed focus on economic co-operation with our major trading partners, and the contribution this could make to EU competitiveness. We needed to prioritise relations with the US, Japan and China. We should focus on regulatory co-operation, on international standards, and an intellectual property framework that reflected emerging new technologies and supported greener economic growth.
I pointed to the importance of addressing trade barriers at the EU’s external borders. DG trade in the Commission needed to work with other directorates-general, in particular tax and customs, health and consumers, and energy and transport, on a risk-based approach to trade regulation and to improve or remove disproportionately bureaucratic measures.
I strongly argued that we had to modernise our trade defence rules and ensure a transparent, economic and business-focused system that recognised the realities of global supply chains.
International trade and investment have the potential to bring benefits not only to our own economies, but also to developing countries. I therefore applauded the overall EU member state provision of more than 40 per cent of the global aid for trade. But I argued that the Commission needed more effective and more flexible systems for spending it. On economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries I encouraged the Commission to press forward with negotiating full regional agreements that were truly development-friendly. We also needed mechanisms to implement and monitor existing EPAs. I pressed the Commission to make progress on the review of the general system of preferences (GSP). We needed increased transparency around the effective implementation of GSP+. I drew all member states’ attention to the plight of Pakistan. I argued that there was an overwhelming moral and political case to support the Pakistan economy at this time, and that an adjustment of rules within GSP+ could bring trade benefits that would have wider, mutually beneficial social and political impact. Finally I emphasised the importance of decent work. I argued that working more closely with the ILO we could make important progress to ensure that standards were raised and secured without creating artificial barriers to trade.