European Commission and cities and regions pledge closer cooperation to boost uptake of Free Trade Agreements
Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan joined the members of the European Committee of the Regions’ (CoR) commission for economic policy (ECON) on 2 March to discuss the opportunities and obstacles of implementing EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on local and regional level.
The ECON members also adopted their recommendations on the implementation of FTAs, the budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness and the service package.
EU trade agreements with third countries cover more than 70 markets and approximately 41% of EU trade in goods worldwide. Currently about 36 million jobs in the EU depend on exports to the rest of the world. Despite the important potential that trade continues to deliver in terms of growth, employment, job creation and investment in the EU, more needs to be done to increase the uptake of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on the ground.
“The voice of our regions will be crucially important if we are to shape EU policies that are effective as well as accepted. This is where the Committee of the Regions brings such huge added value. Your members have their ear to the ground across Europe and, in this way, you add democratic legitimacy to EU policies”, said Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan in his opening statement.
A recent (2019) survey by the CoR in cooperation with Eurochambres shows that effective trade implementation requires addressing the knowledge gap surrounding EU FTAs by providing practical information on how SMEs can make use of them in practice.
“We very much welcome implementation reports on FTAs as a crucial step towards increased transparency and an effective instrument for communicating growth opportunities brought about by trade agreements. Given the low uptake of trade agreements, we strongly believe that FTAs should be made fit for SMEs as much as SMEs should be made fit for FTAs. Local and regional authorities can play a vital role in this regard as they are well positioned to disseminate information about the benefits of FTAs due to their knowledge of and proximity to SMEs.
At the same time we have to be careful not to turn a blind eye to territories that are not prepared to deal with international competition as our role is to ensure that no region is left behind. Territorial Impact Assessments can be a powerful tool, in that respect, helping to identify and quantify possible impacts early and thus allowing cities and regions to put the right policies into place in time”, said Michael Murphy (IE/EPP), chair of the ECON commission and rapporteur on the CoR opinion on the “Implementation of Free Trade Agreement (FTAs): the regional and local perspective” which was adopted during the meeting.
“I welcome the Committee’s first draft opinion on implementation of our Free Trade Agreements. Regions have a key role in implementation. As the draft opinion suggests, regions and their local business and citizens are key beneficiaries of FTAs. I hope that this draft opinion will be the beginning of a more systematic engagement between the Commission and the Committee of the Regions in relation to implementation of our trade agreements”, added Commissioner Hogan.
As a part of closer cooperation the rapporteur suggested to maintain the Expert Group on Trade Agreements in which the CoR is ready to play a more active role. He also welcomed the appointment of a Chief Trade Enforcement Officer who will be in charge of monitoring the implementation of climate, environmental and labour protections enshrined in EU trade agreements, and reiterated cities’ and regions’ offer for close cooperation.
After the debate with Commissioner Hogan ECON members adopted opinions on “the budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness”, prepared by rapporteur Christophe Rouillon (FR/PES) and “the service package: An updated view from Europe’s local and region authorities” by Jean-Luc Vanraes (BE/RE) and discussed the 2020 action plan for cooperation with the European Investment Bank.