A New Trade Policy for Europe in a Changed World

The European Commission on February 18 released its new Trade Policy Review, outlining policy directions for an EU that is open to trade and investment, focused on climate and labor rights, assertive against unfair practices, and determined to remain globally competitive. The communication fleshes out an EU trade policy strategy called “open strategic autonomy” – open where possible, autonomous where needed, and adapted to reflect the challenges of our times.

Fortunately, the EC’s approach aligns well with IPC’s comments to EC officials during our IMPACT advocacy event in Brussels in November, as well as the written comments we submitted during the consultation phase of the review. Specifically, IPC welcomes the emphasis on striking a balance between a market that is open for trade and investment and one that protects European interests in strategic areas. IPC also supports the document’s call for strengthening the multilateral trading system and the World Trade Organization (WTO); ensuring supply chain resiliency; and building strategic partnerships with like-minded partners.

The communication also reflects IPC’s call for a strong but mature EU-China relationship. With the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) agreed in principle at the end of 2020, the focus is now on ensuring effective implementation of the agreement, including market access and ensuring a level playing field for European companies in the Chinese market. Meanwhile, the EC has prioritized the reset of the transatlantic relationship as well.

Of additional note for electronics manufacturers, the commission will continue working towards harmonizing preferential rules of origin in EU free trade agreements. This move would alleviate the administrative burden on companies affected by various requirements under existing agreements.  The commission will also propose legislation for the enforcement of trade-related provisions of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement. To ensure resiliency and diversification, the EU is also looking to forge closer ties with its neighbors in the region and in Africa.

Finally, with resiliency as a compass for EU policy going forward, the review highlights the promotion of sustainable and responsible value chains pending the commission’s proposal on mandatory due diligence as part of a broader focus on sustainable corporate governance. IPC has submitted comments to the EC consultation on this topic in February, and we will continue to work collaboratively as the proposal moves forward.  In the interim, pressure is building to ensure that forced labor does not find a place in the value chains of EU companies.

Clearly, the commission is pursuing an ambitious, integrated trade policy agenda, and there is much at stake for our industry. The coming decade will provide the contours of a new agenda shaping industrial competitiveness in a greener and fairer world.  IPC’s aim is to contribute to this agenda and advocate for a policy framework that enables our members to compete and thrive.

For more information, please contact me at AlisonJames@ipc.org.