Op-ed in Brussels Morning Newspaper: “The time has come to go forward with Free Trade Agreements.”

The Covid pandemic shook our interconnected, global economy. For the first time in many years, people were able to see what our world would look like in its absence. 

It touched everything from the delivery of essential food and medicines, to the price of shipping containers, and the supply of semiconductors that are vital to the manufacture of our everyday electronics.  

We were still reeling from those effects, when Russia launched its unconscionable war against Ukraine at the beginning of this year. Once again, connections and supply chains that were taken for granted are now rapidly deteriorating.   

These events have combined to dissuade the majority from embracing radical solutions and to persuade them to reject the follies of protectionism. The pendulum is swinging slowly back in globalisation’s favour. 

This feeling was clear during the French elections, and as the French Presidency of the EU draws to a close, President Macron should use his victory to publicly endorse a new wave of EU Free Trade Agreements. 

Diversifying our supply chains and securing a degree of adherence to our regulatory and environmental policy from countries around the world will be key to delivering the EU’s Green Deal. We can do this most effectively by moving ahead with new and upgraded Free Trade Agreements. 

We must demonstrate to our voters that the imposition of new and greater regulatory standards at home can be implemented in a way that still retains the competiveness of our businesses on the world stage. Again, new and upgraded Free Trade Agreements are the way to achieve this. 

We have ready-to-go deals on the table with Chile, Mexico and Mercosur. In addition, we are in ongoing negotiations with New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There is a whole raft of deals to be done in the near future. 

These are important in their own right for the trade and economic benefits they will bring. Mercosur alone would save EU businesses around €4 billion a year in tariffs. But, they are also important for solidifying our links with likeminded partners, and furthering our own regulatory agenda based on a common set of values. 

Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters (TSD) are at the forefront when it comes to pursuing this agenda, but discussions fuelled by entrenched positions among my colleagues in the European Parliament about how the aims of these chapters should be most effectively delivered drag on. 

It is of the utmost importance that INTA now works to find a historic compromise on the review of TSD chapters and the signing of new trade agreements. My fellow EPP colleagues recently outlined a positive approach towards this in an open letter to Commissioner Dombrovskis. 

We should also remember that, in addition to the TSD review, the Commission has also put forward a number of so-called parallel autonomous instruments that are aimed at tackling many of these same issues. 

This includes new due diligence legislation, a bid to stop the import of products produced with forced labour, and the Deforestation Regulation, which will prevent products entering the EU market that have been cultivated on deforested land.  

I hope that we can work proactively with colleagues across the political spectrum in a spirit of compromise, keeping in mind that although we must remain ambitious in promoting our values to trade partners, if our demands become too onerous we may end up with nothing.

Published in Brussels Morning Newspaper on 16/5/2022.