Lost in (Council) conclusions:  trade in a time of growing tensions

With the eyes of the media and the public firmly hooked on the paragraphs dealing with migration, other parts of the latest Council conclusions which were finally agreed at 4:34am on Friday morning somewhat failed to get the – positive- attention they deserve.

Scrolling down to paragraph 16, European leaders explicitly underline ‘the importance of preserving and deepening the rules-based multilateral system’ in tems of 'growing trade tensions', followed by a clear commitment to contribute to the modernisation of the system.

While observers were quick to note that the issue had already featured many times in previous Summit conclusions, the remarkable point is that the document goes beyond the usual phrasing, spelling out a set of priority areas to reform the World Trade Organisation (WTO). As a reference to the latest disputes, the text calls, inter alia, ‘for new rules that address current challenges’ and also proposes a ‘more effective and transparent dispute settlement’. 

As European spirits producers, we are fully supportive of these conclusions. Preserving the essential role of the WTO, in particular the dispute settlement body, is something spiritsEUROPE has been calling for years. With this ambition in mind, we support the objective of modernising the WTO in the areas suggested by the Council.

As a longstanding and vocal champion of fair and free trade, we also welcome the wording in paragraph 17 which reiterates the EU’s ambition for a positive trade agenda and the aim ‘to negotiate ambitious, balanced, and mutually beneficial trade agreements with key partners across the world.’ This being said, while negotiations are important, swift ratifications and implementation of negotiated deals are arguably even more so!

The EU’s phrasing on the WTO reform was widely interpreted as a signal to President Trump and longstanding US reform proposals for the WTO. In the best case, discussions on the issue could serve as a tool for finding common ground (again) and helping to de-escalate recent tensions. The upcoming presidential encounter between Juncker and Trump in July will be an indicator of whether any progress can be made.

Either way, the EU will remain vigilant: paragraph 18 spells out the bloc’s firm commitment react to any further ‘actions of a clear protectionist nature’.

Ulrich Adam*
Director General

*In his capacity as permanent representative of SPRL ADLOR Consulting