Brussels, 31 October 2022
Once again, my thanks to Minister Sikela and the Czech Presidency for hosting us in your beautiful capital.
We today held what I would call “strategic discussions”. These are turbulent times, all policies must adapt, including trade.
Let me start with the geopolitical context. Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable war is shifting perspectives on trade policy within the EU.
People and policymakers are again remembering the value of trade and investment relationships based on trust, values and rules.
We already have the world’s most comprehensive networks of free trade agreements – 46 deals with 78 partners.
We depend on these deals not only for reliable economic opportunities, but also for access to key inputs and raw materials. They help us to achieve our wider global goals, such as climate and sustainability targets.
Now, as we deal with a more fragmented global order, these agreements gain geopolitical importance too.
They help to draw our partners closer to us. They provide a platform built on rules and trust.
I am pleased to see growing recognition of this fact among our Member States. This gives the Commission political backing to invest more time and energy into concluding new trade deals.
Our focus for the next year is therefore to sign deals with New Zealand, Chile and Mexico, and to advance ongoing negotiations with Australia, Indonesia and India.
At the same time, we continue to champion multilateral reform, while strengthening our own tools to defend ourselves from unfair trade practices, and enhance our security.
Digital Trade is a key priority for the Commission, as part of the EU’s wider digital transition. It is essential that, in this process, the EU is a rule-maker, not a rule-taker.
This is why we are leading efforts to accelerate ongoing WTO e-commerce negotiations, and pushing for ambitious outcomes.
Our position in the WTO negotiations is very challenging when it comes to data flows. But during the last months we have seen that bilateral negotiations with influential partners can ease WTO discussions, and predispose such partners to find a compromise.
This is why it is urgent to enhance our bilateral agenda. We are already negotiating digital rules with Australia, Indonesia, India and Japan.
Indeed, we were pleased last week to announce the launch of ambitious talks to find a data flows agreement with Japan.
But we need to reach further and faster, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.
Moving to our relations with the United States, the transatlantic trade relationship remains strategically important for the EU, and it was a pleasure to have US Trade Representative Tai in Prague today.
A key forum for deepening our positive bilateral agenda is the Trade and Technology Council.
The first two TTC meetings were about putting our priorities in order.
The next TTC meeting, which takes place in Washington DC on December 5th must be about results.
It must deliver actual outcomes for people and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.
Our EU priorities include a stronger emphasis on trade expanding initiatives. And we want to see more TTC focus on climate change. So we hope to announce a “Transatlantic Initiative on Sustainable Trade”.
Finally, I want to say a brief word on the US Inflation Reduction Act.
This is an issue of concern for many countries and businesses, which I have raised with our US partners over these past weeks, and it featured prominently in today’s discussions.
It would appear that many of the green subsidies provided for in the Act may discriminate against EU automotive, renewables, battery and energy-intensive industries.
Therefore, we welcome the setting up of a Joint High-level Taskforce.
We announced the creation of this Taskforce last week, and the first meeting will already be held this week.
So hopefully we are going to have constructive engagement from the US, and we look forward to seeing this issue resolved in this new forum. It will not be easy to fix it – but fix it we must.