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A mixed year for trade: what’s next?

Tags: TRADE Brexit TTIP CETA EU

Few people could have predicted the direction that 2016 eventually took. Between the election of Donald Trump as the USA’s 45th President, and the victory of the Leave campaign in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, it was a year of political surprises.

So too for trade. While the EU member states and Canada were completing the ratification of CETA —seeing off last-minute objections from Walloonia —the Vice-Chancellor of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, was putting the knife into TTIP and signalling its death knell. The recently issued European Court of Justice opinion (which will be followed by a ruling in early 2017), that EU trade deals will now require Member State ratification in addition to ratification by the European Parliament effectively means that no majority in the Bundestag (or any other competent member state parliament) for TTIP would be enough to kill it. When you add to this the political priorities of the trade sceptic President-elect Donald Trump —who’s mercantilist views have American bipartisan support —and the expended energies and changing geopolitical picture caused by Brexit, it is all a rather grim picture for TTIP specifically, and trade generally.

It is a much clichéd trope that 2016 was a terrible year, and so we must look forward to the year ahead. I would happen to agree with that —but with some caveats. The last decade has been a massively ambitious one for the European Union, in which it expanded its influence and its reach as a trading bloc. I contend that for a liberal trade programme and the future of these victories, the next twelve months will be spent in defence rather than offence.

With internal dissent rising its head in France — albeit with Front National’s leader and 2017 Presidential Candidate Marine Le Pen now dialling back her support for ‘Frexit’ — and with the Freedom Party in Austria only just defeated, it is now time for European leaders to re-build popular support for the mission of the European Union. To try and expand your reach further at a time of great existential crisis would not just be foolish, it would be hubris. Before we can look to a future where Europe deepens its Single Market, it must first explain itself to an electorate that has become increasingly warier.

It’s a fact that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel understands well. Her New Year’s Eve address going into 2017 hit the right note — understanding no single country can hope to achieve more alone than the European Union can together. Understanding the growth the Single Market has generated and there is more to come, that organisations like Europol that keep Europe safe from harm also mark out Europe as a stable continent where companies come from around the world to trade and prosper. That by spreading influence and growing economically, Europe can aspire to be a place where standards are set, and not just where standards are followed.

These might all be lofty words, but half of politics is presentation, and not just implementation. In the forty-one years between the United Kingdom voting to remain in the Common Market and its voting to leave the European Union, yesterday’s Eurofanatic cheerleaders became today’s Eurosceptic headbangers. While hard at work to improve the lives of its inhabitants, the European Union appeared more and more distant from those it served. I do not think it is fair, little in politics ever is, and yet it is perceptions we must always contend with, not realities.

To summarise, us trade fanatics have a lot to be proud of from the European Union, and we have a lot more to be proud of in the future. Let’s take the time over the following twelve months to continue to explain why.

 

Please note that the views of our guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views or position of the Alliance for Responsible Commerce and ARC.trade.

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