The European Commission published its Communication on An Open, Sustainable and Assertive Trade Policy on 18 February 2021 (the Communication). This follows a consultation on the EU’s Trade Policy Review which closed in November 2020.
The Communication seeks to reset the course of the EU’s trade policy in the context of global uncertainty and increased competition. Its key theme is “open strategic autonomy”, a concept characterized by three main elements:
1) furthering openness and engagement by making strategic use of the size and attractiveness of the EU Single Market;
2) enhancing the resilience and sustainability of value chains. The Commission in this regard seeks as a priority to identify strategic dependencies in supply chains, also to be addressed by industrial policy reviews; and
3) demonstrating assertiveness and encouraging rules-based cooperation in the implementation of EU trade policy to further support the EU’s geopolitical interests.
In line with its overarching objective of open strategic autonomy, the Communication suggests that the EU’s trade policy will focus on three core priorities:
- support the recovery from the pandemic and the fundamental transformation of the EU economy in line with its green and digital objectives;
- shape global rules for a more sustainable and fairer globalization; and
- increase the EU’s capacity to pursue its interests and enforce its rights, including autonomously where needed. In this regard, the EU will seek appropriate means to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of provisions on sustainable development in EU trade agreements, to level-up social, labor and environmental standards globally, but also to defend itself against unfair trading practices.