Strengthening fair and free world trade

Video conference of EU trade ministers Strengthening fair and free world trade

Chaired by Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier, the EU trade ministers held a video conference on Monday to discuss topical issues. What did they discuss? Why do people in Europe benefit from common trade policy? Here is a round-up of FAQs.

Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier

The meeting of EU trade ministers took the form of a video conference.

Photo: Europäische Union

What was discussed?

Trade relations between the EU and the USA were the first point on the agenda when the trade minister met. They took stock of the elections in the USA. "The USA will continue to be an indispensable partner to face challenges such as COVID-19, the crisis of the multilateral trading system, climate change and international trade and technology issues," said Federal Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier. On the legal dispute in front of the WTO regarding Airbus and Boeing, the EU signalled its readiness to accept a negotiated solution. 

The ministers also looked at the reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO organises and monitors mandatory regulations governing international trade. It also ensures effective arbitration when trade conflicts arise. "We must continue to press for an extensive reform of the WTO system," emphasised Peter Altmaier. It is a common concern of the EU, that the WTO be modernised and that a new WTO Director-General appointed soon.

The ministers also discussed the current status of the consultation process on the EU’s future trade and investment policy, which will continue until 15 November. Finally, they touched on trade relations with China, with the focus on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. Negotiations on the agreement are to be concluded by the end of this year.

Why is the EU’s common trade policy important?

The European Union is one of the world’s most strongly export oriented economies. That makes the common trade policy a top priority for member states. EU trade policy is intended to eliminate barriers to cross-border trade, thus facilitating commercial activities.

The EU takes a common stance on the international stage rather than pursuing a large number of different strategies, which gives it a strong position in world trade. The member states can only attain their goal of an effective, rules-based multilateral trade system if they work together. 

The EU trade policy also includes protective mechanisms, because only fair trade is also free trade. The EU has a WTO-compliant range of instruments that it is not afraid to deploy against unfair competition resulting from state investments. The EU can use these instruments, for instance, to protect itself against dumping prices charged for steel products from China. 

What are the benefits of international trade for the people in the EU?

Fair and free world trade in goods and services is an important foundation for the prosperity of the people in the EU, and helps raise living standards. More than 30 million jobs in the EU – one in seven – depend on exports to countries outside the European Union.

In future 90 per cent of global growth is expected to take place outside the borders of Europe. Foreign trade will thus, in future, become an ever more important driver of growth in the EU. Consumers also benefit from EU trade policy. Not only in local shops but also online, where they can buy products from around the world at lower prices. 

The Union is responsible for the trade policy of EU member states. It negotiates agreements with third countries on behalf of member states. The EU speaks with one voice, giving it more weight in trade negotiations than individual member states would have.