The European Commission’s new trade strategy pushes for further services liberalisation


The European Commission published its new trade strategy titled “Trade for All – Towards a more responsible trade and investment policy” on 14 October 2015. Trade Commissioner Malmström described the strategy as a direct result of the lessons learned by the Commission in recent intense debates concerning free trade agreements (FTAs) including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  The European Parliament’s International Trade Committee (INTA) will react to the new trade strategy through its own-initiative report "A new forward-looking and innovative future strategy on trade and investment".

The Communication focuses on the need for growth and jobs in the European Union through increased trade and investment, while introducing some emphasis on also ensuring European values and policy coherence with the other foreign policies of the EU, in particular with regards to sustainable development and the recently agreed sustainable development goals (SDGs).

According to the new strategy EU trade policy must be revised according to new economic realities and as a consequence the Commission pushes for further services liberalisation at home and abroad with the explicit mentioning of the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). At the same time the real and profound risks to public services of locking in and intensifying the pressures of privatisation and commercialisation as a consequence of further services liberalisation is not properly addressed. Instead, the Commission does not envisage changing its current approach and states that its position remains clear. In other words, there is no new approach being outlined to protecting current and future public services.

Martin Rømer, ETUCE European Director stated: “It is questionable how the EU will guarantee policy coherence, such as in the framework of the SDGs, while at the same time pushing for services liberalisation around the world. In particular, there is a clear need to explicitly carve-out current and future public services from trade agreements in order to safeguarding the European social model and enabling other countries to develop public services where they do not yet exist.

Another key element of the strategy concerns adding regulatory cooperation in trade agreements. Here the red tape and significant additional costs for producers are highlighted as problems of differentiating regulatory approaches, while the implications for the democratic decision-making process is not taken into account.

Furthermore, the strategy focuses on ensuring a better implementation of trade policy. It is acknowledged that trade policies have negative impacts resulting in job losses in certain regions and countries and accordingly the need for learning new skills, adjusting to new ways of working and possibly moving to another region or Member State in order to look for a job. The Commission mentions firstly the responsibility of Member States and the EU in ensuring active labour market policies and secondly it emphasises the key role of education polices in supporting continuous skills development to prepare workers for future jobs. The EU’s Structural and Investment Fund as well as the European Globalisation Fund are outlined to support communities suffering the negatives consequences of trade policies.