Trade policy

In brief

The common trade policy is an exclusive competence of the European Union. The European Commission is the key player in trade negotiations, under the control of Member States and the European Parliament. In accordance with the Treaty of Lisbon, the Commission conducts tariff and trade negotiations with third party States or with international organisations, including the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It acts by consulting a special committee called the Trade Policy Committee. Where agreements with third party countries have to be negotiated, the Commission is issued with a mandate through which the Council authorises it to begin negotiations and conduct them under certain conditions. These negotiations are conducted by the Commission in consultation with the Trade Policy Committee and within the framework of any directives that may be issued by the Council.

In Belgium, the Directorate General for Coordination and European Affairs (DGE) of the FPS Foreign Affairs is responsible for the preparation, definition, coordination, representation, defence and monitoring of Belgium's European policy. The DGE prepares the Belgian decision process so that our country can speak with one voice in the Council of Ministers and promote its interests. This is done through the consultation and coordination of federal and federated bodies. Furthermore, the DGE assists the Minister in his responses to parliamentary questions, in order to clarify Belgian positions after coordination. It is also important to highlight the work of the DGE within the Meetings of Experts, in distributing information to diplomatic posts, bilateral contacts with the departments of the European Union and in building alliances of interest with other European Delegations.

Objectives for Belgium

Four key objectives can be listed here:

  • Open up foreign markets to promote growth and employment,
  • Facilitate the creation of global rules,
  • Integrate the Less Developed Countries,
  • Ensure compliance with the rules.

In order to do this, the EU takes a multi-faceted approach in terms of trade. First and foremost, it is the multilateral path that has always been the preference of the EU and Belgium, because this not only allows the growth of trade opportunities for our companies, but also helps to integrate the less developed countries into international trade, a major concern of Belgium and the EU. Our country also welcomes the fact that the European Union is at the forefront of the ratifications of the Agreement on Trade Facilitation.

Nevertheless, following the difficulties encountered in multilateral negotiations and the barriers that have emerged, particularly within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the European Union, anxious to continue to promote international tradeas a driver of growth and employment, has adopted a pragmatic approach, namely, the negotiation of Bilateral Free Trade Agreements.

This approach has seen its first results with the signing and entry into force of various Trade Agreements, such as the one with the Republic of Korea. Always in a spirit of complementarity between the different levels of trade negotiation, Belgium is attentively following developments in the European Union's bilateral negotiations with several partners. The signing of a Free Trade Agreement with Vietnam has served as a reminder of the European Union's capacity to open up to a promising market. It is also worth recalling other negotiations such as those with Singapore and Canada.

Also, within the framework of negotiations conducted by the European Commission with the United States and Japan for example, Belgium has actively continued to promote its economic interests and commanded a high degree of ambition, transparency, respect for our standards and values and promotion of sustainable development.

It must be stressed that the development dimension is as also very important and is duly taken into account in this bilateral approach, since the European Union negotiates Agreements with many less advanced or less developed countries by adopting an asymmetrical approach (the Union offers more than it demands from these countries).

In addition to these multilateral and bilateral approaches, the European Union also participates in various plurilateral negotiations. We should remember the negotiations regarding services (TISA) and the liberalisation of environmental goods (EGA: Environmental Goods Agreement).

However, negotiations alone are not enough. The rules must also be defended, which is why the European Union has the necessary trade defence instruments.

Promoting sustainable development in trade policy is a key principle for Belgium. We constantly insist on this aspect being included in the negotiation of current Agreements. Belgium also calls for greater involvement of civil society in the monitoring mechanism for the implementation of commitments.

The objective is not only to ensure that trade does not damage sustainable development, but also that trade has a positive impact on employment and the environment. The provisions in our trade agreements are increasingly ambitious and based on an incentive approach. The key principles can be summarised as follows:

  • Encourage the ratification and implementation of international instruments, particularly key ILO Conventions and major Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs);
  • Maintain the right to regulate;
  • Set up specific bodies in Trade Agreements. A committee including the 3 pillars of sustainable development is responsible for monitoring and implementing the related provisions. This committee is directly related to civil society (e.g. domestic advisory groups set up by the EU/Korea Agreement);
  • For settling disputes: an independent panel may draft a report in the event of non-compliance with the provisions. (The non-coercive approach still applies);

Another key principle is not to reduce the level of protection with the aim of attracting investment.

Useful links