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EU to push greener trade policy, WTO reform

By AFP - Feb 19,2021 - Last updated at Feb 19,2021

BRUSSELS — The European Union will make fighting the climate emergency central to its trade policy and push for major reform at the World trade Organisation (WTO), according to a new strategy revealed on Thursday.

The new thinking on EU trade policy came with hopes in Brussels for deeper cooperation with the Biden Administration in the US after four years of fractious ties with the protectionist Donald Trump.

The EU, a massive market of 450 million people, has struggled to meet its trade policy objectives in the face of US protectionism and other obstacles.

A top official of the European Commission, which handles trade policy for the EU's 27 member states, announced the new strategy, which is intended to help set goals over the next 10 years.

"The challenges we face require a new strategy for EU trade policy," EU Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, who leads the bloc's trade policy, said in a statement.

"Trade policy must fully support the green and digital transformations of our economy and lead global efforts to reform the WTO," he said.

In its new vision, the Commission proposed that future trade deals embrace the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, whose absence from previous accords has been seen as a major shortcoming.

One example is the EU's long-negotiated trade deal with the South American Mercosur countries, which is in jeopardy because of concerns over mass deforestation in Brazil. 

Brussels will also seek to become more assertive in projecting its independence from the US and Chinese economic behemoths, with an embrace of multilateralism to include India and African nations.

This would require a major overhaul of the 164-member World Trade Organisation that has been crippled by a deep rift with the US, which believes its rules are inadequate on reining in China.

"The global rulebook is outdated. It no longer guarantees a level playing field," Dombrovskis said.

The new appointment of Nigerian-American Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the WTO's new head presents "an opportunity for a fresh start," the commission said.

She will take over leadership on March 1 of an institution that has become weighed down and increasingly defanged, notably by Washington's refusal to replace key posts.

The EU also said it would set up mechanisms to ensure that companies do not use forced labour, an especially sensitive topic after Europe signed a controversial investment deal with China in December.

That deal faces a tough ratification process, with the European Parliament keen for Beijing to sign on to the International Labour Organisation's ban on the use of forced labour.




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