EU engaged in Herculean battle against trade protectionism

China, Russia singled out as main culprits of unwanted obstacles, according to a report

Cecilia Malmstrom

European exporters suffered a major increase in protectionism in 2017, according to the EU's annual report on Trade and Investment Barriers, released last Tuesday. At the same time, the report stressed that the European Commission has managed to eliminate an ever high number of trade barriers faced by EU companies doing business abroad.

European exporters suffered a major increase in protectionism in 2017, according to the EU's annual report on Trade and Investment Barriers, released last Tuesday. At the same time, the report stressed that the European Commission has managed to eliminate an ever high number of trade barriers faced by EU companies doing business abroad. “The EU is determined to ensure that foreign markets remain equally open to our firms and products,” Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom pointed out, adding that “given the recent rise in protectionism in many parts of the world, our daily work to remove trade barriers has become even more important”.
As an examples of annulled restrictions, the report pointed at recognition of safety standards used by the EU machinery industry in Brazil's new safety legislation; elimination of administrative barriers for services in Argentina; removal of restrictions on copper and aluminium scrap, and paper in Turkey; removal of animal and plant health and hygiene barriers related to bovine exports to China, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan; and elimination of certain restrictions on poultry exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
According to the report, 45 obstacles were lifted fully or in part in 2017 through the EU's enhanced Market Access Strategy, which is more than twice as many as in 2016. Barriers removed spanned across 13 key EU export and investment sectors, including aircraft, automotive, ceramics, ICT & electronics, machinery, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, textiles, leather, agri-food, steel, paper, and services. Overall, this brings the number of barriers eliminated under the Juncker Commission to 88. Thanks to the barriers removed from 2014 to 2016, in 2017, EU companies exported goods and service worth additional €4.8bn.
But the report also shows that, in 2017, 67 new barriers were recorded, taking their total number to 396, spread across 57 different trading partners around the world, which confirms that protectionist trends are deepening. China posed the largest increase in new barriers in 2017, followed by Russia, South Africa, India and Turkey. The Mediterranean region as a whole also showed a notable rise in barriers for EU companies. The nine countries with the highest number of trade barriers still in place are all G20 economies.
Separately, in a resolution on the state of EU-US relations voted last Thursday, Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs expressed deep regret that the US administration has chosen a one-sided “America first” policy, that harms the interests of both the EU and the US and undermines mutual trust. The US decision to quit key international deals and start a trade war harms EU-US ties, MEPs stressed, but added that nevertheless the EU should not give up on transatlantic bond. MEPs noted that the US decision to impose steel and aluminium tariffs on EU exports cannot be justified on the grounds of national security and called on the US to lift them. The EU stands ready to work with the US on trade related issues within the rules of the multilateral trading system, MEPs pointed out, adding that the WTO is the best place to settle these disputes.

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