EU exports boosted thanks to stronger implementation and enforcement of trade deals and global rules

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


Effective implementation and enforcement of EU trade agreements and international trade rules have added €5.4 billion to EU exports in 2020. This confirms that European Commission efforts are paying off. Tangible results range from the elimination of trade barriers to addressing unfair trade practices and taking action on trade and sustainable development. Over the past year, the Commission has also developed further legal instruments to strengthen the EU’s capacity to defend its key interests and protect its open strategic autonomy.

The Commission’s first comprehensive annual report on implementation and enforcement, published today, describes the Commission’s actions, in close partnership with EU business, Member States and stakeholders,to keep markets open and ensure that EU trading partners comply with their commitments. The report covers four priority areas: (1) Making full use of the opportunities provided by EU trade agreements; (2) Supporting the uptake of trade agreements by small businesses; (3) Addressing trade barriers; (4) Enforcing trade commitments through dispute settlement.

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “An assertive trade policy is about ensuring our partners honour their international commitments and, in the process, directly support European businesses and jobs. As this report shows, we are making real progress on both fronts. We now have an EU Chief Trade Enforcement Officer who is fully focused on enforcing and implementing our trade agreements, and ensuring that our SMEs – who are the backbone of the European economy – get maximum value from our trade deals. We will soon unveil proposals to further defend our trade interests with a new anti-coercion tool.”

Concrete action by the Commission in the past year has continued to facilitate EU exports as well as defend key EU interests. In particular:

  • The Commission removed 33 trade barriers in 22 partner countries.
  • European companies have exported an additional € 4 billion in 2020 than they would have without the elimination of barriers in the last 5 years.
  • The Commission launched its award-winning Access to Markets online platform, which provides essential support to 584,000 SMEs so they can export more easily and faster. Over the past year, there has been huge appetite from companies for clear and practical information on how to trade beyond the EU’s borders, with over 1.5 million visitors using the platform in just a year.
  • The Single Entry Point for complaints established in November 2020 has transformed the way companies and stakeholders can flag trade barriers or breaches of trade and sustainable development commitments by partner countries to the Commission. It has already resulted in 29 formal complaints that the Commission is investigating.
  • The Commission made progress on several dispute settlement actions, including on labour rights, either to the WTO or under EU trade agreements. Trading partners and sectors concerned include Turkey and pharmaceutical products, Indonesia and raw materials, and Ukraine and timber. In January 2021, the Commission prevailed in its first bilateral dispute concerning labour right issues in the EU-South Korea trade agreement, leading South Korea to take action to ratify and implement important ILO Conventions to protect worker rights.

The Commission has in the past year also taken decisive steps to enforce its rights and defend its values more assertively, in order to better defend its interests. It is also finalising important legislation to further enhance enforcement and implementation:

  • The new Foreign Direct Investment screening mechanism in force since October 2020 allows EU Member States and the Commission to become aware of transactions, cooperate and coordinate their actions on these foreign investments. Member States can also share their views on the potential impact on security and/or public order in their territory of investments taking place in another Member State. The Commission can do the same if it considers that individual investments are likely to affect security or public order of more than one Member State, or, if they are likely to affect projects or programmes of Union interest on grounds of security or public order.
  • In September 2021, the EU’s updated Export Control rules entered into force. The new framework strengthens our ability to control the export of dual use technologies and allows the Union greater autonomy in doing so.
  • The Commission is preparing a legislative proposal for a new anti-coercion instrument that will allow the EU to respond to attempts by other countries to force the EU or its countries to bring about policy changes.
  • The Commission has proposed an International Procurement Instrument which will help ensure a level playing field in the global procurement market. This is currently with the European Parliament and Council (or similar).
  • Similarly, a new tool is in the works to address the potential distortive effects of foreign subsidies in the Single Market. The new tool is designed to effectively tackle foreign subsidies that cause distortions and harm the level playing field in the Single Market in any market situation.

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