Europe’s new ‘strategic’ approach to trade is nothing of the sort

The EU’s trade policy under the slogan of “open strategic autonomy” reminds one of the famous quip about the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither ‘Holy’ nor ‘Roman’ nor much of an ‘empire’. Likewise, European Commission’s recent Trade Policy Review betrays a view of trade relations that is neither open nor particularly strategic. And if it does offer ‘autonomy’, it comes at the cost of further detaching Europe from the global economy.

The Commission is correct in seeking to revitalise both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the transatlantic partnership. However, the strategy presented in the Review is thoroughly inadequate in enhancing the “the EU’s ability to make its own choices and shape the world around it through leadership and engagement, reflecting its strategic interests and values,” as the EC defines its “open strategic autonomy.”

In a new report, the director of the European Centre of International Political Economy in Brussels, Fredrik Erixon, explains that the Review fails to engage seriously with some of the most pressing challenges of the day.

For instance, the Trade Policy Review says nothing about growing shifts in energy production and supply – a huge issue for the new geopolitics of trade and competition. China’s Belt-and-Road initiative is absent: again, a pretty big matter in both geopolitics and trade. The economics of the Abraham accords, and how these accords have consequences for economic integration in the region and the outside world, aren’t recognised. And the broader global geopolitical shifts? We aren’t provided with much guidance about how the Commission thinks about Europe’s international trade policy as part of an integrated policy on geopolitical shifts in the Asian region. Does it aspire to have a role in the shaping of trade openness and rules, or broader economic alliances, in in the Asia-Pacific region?

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Dalibor Rohac is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


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