Background

An updated trade strategy announced by the European Union Feb. 18 emphasizes reforming global trade rules and taking a more assertive stance in defending EU interests and values, including through new tools. The EU states that while it will continue to work with partners to advance its agenda, it will also work autonomously when it must.

The strategy has three core objectives: (1) supporting the recovery and fundamental transformation of the EU economy in line with its green and digital objectives, (2) shaping global rules for a more sustainable and fairer globalization, and (3) increasing the EU's capacity to pursue its interests and enforce its rights.

A top priority for achieving these objectives is to reform the World Trade Organization. Specific goals include (1) a new, more targeted approach to special and differential treatment for developing countries, (2) restoring a functioning dispute settlement system in which adjudicators exercise judicial economy and are not bound by precedent, (3) making it easier to negotiate new agreements on issues of importance for large subgroups of WTO members, (4) establishing new rules on digital trade, services, and investment; industrial subsidies; state-owned enterprises; and forced technology transfer, (5) lowering tariffs on health products, selected climate mitigation goods, and environmental services, and (6) increasing the transparency of members’ trade practices and improving how WTO committees work. Many of these goals are similar to those enumerated by incoming WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The Commission will also pursue its objectives by doing the following.

- setting up EU rules on mandatory due diligence for companies, including effective action and enforcement mechanisms to ensure forced labor is not part of EU companies’ value chains

- strengthening tools to protect European companies from unfair trade practices, including via the preparation of an anti-coercion instrument

- exploring options for an EU strategy for export credits

- seeking commitments from G-20 countries to make their economies climate-neutral as a basis for concluding trade agreements

- proposing to make the Paris Agreement an essential element in all future trade agreements

- strengthening trade and investment ties with Africa and neighboring enlargement countries by better integrating them into EU supply chains and fostering sustainable development

- promoting the digital transition and trade in services, including by removing unjustified trade barriers in the digital economy

- strengthening the EU's regulatory impact

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