New Internationalist

Oh, Mandy

September 2007

The EU’s post-WTO global trade agenda isn’t looking pretty

Peter Mandelson is on a new mission. With the ongoing possibility that the multilateral trade talks at the WTO will collapse completely, the EU Commissioner for Trade and External Competitiveness has unveiled plans to drive forward an even more ambitious European trade policy – one that is increasingly pro-business.

The former mastermind of Tony Blair’s rise to power publicly revealed his agenda in October 2006 in a communication entitled ‘Global Europe – Competing in the World’. The talk is about taking a ‘hardnosed’ or ‘activist’ approach to prise markets open and to obtain ‘real’ export opportunities for EU companies. The nakedly aggressive language that has always characterized internal Commission memos has now been laid bare for all to read.

The EU plans to achieve this by negotiating a series of new ‘Free Trade Areas’ (FTAs). It’s clear that, in the Commission’s view, the EU’s corporate ambitions have not been achieved through multilateral channels. By using FTAs, the EU will pick off key markets and target them for intensive liberalization – much as the US is already doing. The countries in the EU’s sights are what it calls ‘new emerging markets’ and areas of the world that echo the geopolitical ambitions of the US: India, Southeast Asia, South Korea, the Mercosur bloc in South America, Andean and Central American countries, nations in the Gulf and potentially China. Mandelson’s goal is clear: ‘We need to create opportunities for European business and to help maintain the dynamic of global trade liberalization.’

But to many civil society organizations, trade unions and farmers’ groups, Global Europe represents yet another assault on the promotion of development, the fight against poverty, and the protection of the environment.

It is unashamedly a manifesto for business, seeking to ensure the competitiveness of EU companies at the expense of almost everything else. Companies must have access to natural resources and overseas markets, for both trade and investment. Scant attention is given to the damage this could cause – to people, development or the environment.

Many aspects of this controversial approach have already been rejected by developing countries at the WTO. But the EU is not even trying to hide its frustration about this and, on behalf of business, plans to introduce them into its new FTAs regardless.

The ongoing ‘Economic Partnership Agreement’ negotiations between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are in many ways a foretaste of what is to come. In the face of consistent resistance, the EU is using its economic and political power to force its own corporate-led vision on to these countries.

Tim Rice / ActionAid


This column was published in the September 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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