Europe seeks new free trade partners

Brussels, October 4 :

European trade chief Peter Mandelson today presented a more liberal trade strategy for the bloc, seeking new free trade agreement (FTA) partners in areas that will benefit European exporters.

“The key economic criteria for new FTA partners should be the market potential (economic size and growth) and the level of protection against EU export interests,” including tariffs and non-tariff barriers, according to an executive summary of the new strategy, entitled ‘Global Europe: Competing in the World’. Based on these criteria, ‘ASEAN, South Korea and Mercosur emerge as priorities,” the report states.

“India, Russia and the Gulf Co-operation Council (negotiations also currently active) also have combinations of market potential and levels of protection which make them of direct interest to the EU.” China also meets “many of these criteria, but requires special attention because of the opportunities and risks it represents”.

“Europe is the world’s biggest export — but it needs a tighter focus on target markets, and a long-term commitment to competitiveness,” the statement read.

For Mandelson “rejection of protectionsim at home should be accompanied by activism in opening markets abroad”.

The document, adopted by the European Commission today, stressed that the EU’s priority should be to guarantee that all new FTAs, including those involving the EU, “serve as a stepping stone, not a stumbling block for multilateral liberalisation.” However the report criticises the current approach to free trade agreements as serving the objectives of development or good neighbourliness more than the EU’s own trade interests.

Independent of the ongoing Doha trade round of the WTO, the European Commission stressed that this new trade approach would help open up markets neglected or ignored by multilateral deals.