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Former trade commissioner says EU should join Trans-Pacific Partnership




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Cecilia Malmström has accused the European Union of ‘navel-gazing lately’. The former European trade commissioner argues forcefully in a recent blog (4 December) that Europe should use its leverage as a trade superpower to become a stronger foreign policy player. She outlines some areas where the EU could take a different approach, among other things calling for the EU to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). 

“Feeling squeezed between the United States and China, yet not fully equipped to take a leading role in the neighbourhood, European leaders are pondering the challenge of becoming more autonomous and more geopolitical,” said Malmström. “While thinking about how to become a stronger foreign policy player, Europe should use the leverage that it already has - trade.”

The ‘Brussesl effect’ can be seen in the EU’s 50 trade agreements with chapters on environment, labour and human rights standards. Malmström says the EU has failed to utilize its full leverage in areas like reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

Malmström suggests a number of areas where the EU could up the ante, completing deals with Mexico and Chile, noting the possibility of diversifying the EU’s access to important sources of lithium and cobalt; reinvigorating negotiations with New Zealand and Australia; completing deals with Malaysia and Indonesia; as well as finally adopting an EU-Taiwan investment agreement first proposed in 2015. 

Most surprising though is the idea that the EU should seek to enter the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and convince the United States to do the same. While the ‘Pacific’ may sound geographically removed from the EU, the UK is hoping to join by the end of 2022. 

Perceived by some as a bulwark against China’s might, China is also considering membership, though it is not thought to meet the requirements unless it is granted exemptions. Barack Obama held the agreement up as key to his pivot towards Asia, one that was abruptly stopped in its tracks by the arrival of President Trump. We asked the Commission for comment and haven’t yet received a response. 

The recently adopted EU Indo-Pacific Strategy mentions the possibility of “an eventual negotiation of a region-to-region trade agreement with ASEAN”. At the recent ASEM (EU-ASEAN) summit in November, leaders agreed to broad generalities on open and fair trade, as well as strengthening multilateralism, but otherwise there was no sign of any more in-depth co-operation.


Optimistically, Malmström thinks that the EU could have taken more of a lead given that the US and China are at odds over trade and the ongoing problems in the WTO. However, she raises some concerns over the EU taking a more protectionist path. While welcoming the new anti-coercion instrument proposed in December she sounds a note of caution saying that it should be used in a transparent and non-discriminatory way.

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