Picture: 123RF/JAKOBRADLGRUBER
Picture: 123RF/JAKOBRADLGRUBER

The EU has yet to unveil its new proposal for an anti-coercion trade tool to safeguard the bloc’s geopolitical interests, but it is already facing scepticism.

The Swedish government said it was not convinced the problem was big enough to warrant the proposal in the first place, according to a paper outlining its concerns seen by Bloomberg. 

The EU is seeking for the first time to create a single legal instrument with which “to deter and counteract coercive practices” by countries outside the bloc. The commission has said it is necessary to strengthen the EU’s strategic autonomy and to protect member states’ interests.  

But not everyone is convinced that the new rules will fit within the legal framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“Efforts to respond to economic coercion must be within WTO rules and public international law,” the Swedish document said. “EU policy to defend the international order has served our companies well and we should not risk undermining the rules-based trading system with the WTO at its core.”

China dispute

The issue came to the fore recently after local media in Lithuania reported that some of the country’s exports had been blocked from entering China in retaliation for Vilnius allowing Taiwan to set up a representative office. Chinese state media have denied the reports. 

“We need to strengthen the EU’s resilience, protect our economic interests, and enhance our legitimate rights to impose countermeasures, where necessary,” commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said in March.

Sweden said in its paper that work still needs to be done “to specify which threats are of the first order and justify developing instruments and response options at EU level”. An immediate response without sufficient evidence could harm the credibility of EU policy both outside and within the bloc “should it be perceived as unfair or unproportional”, the paper said.

An EU diplomat from another country said that the instrument would be flawed if the aim was to respond to threats, as trade countermeasures should be based on specific actions to calibrate the appropriate response. The official also questioned the commission’s push for creating a unilateral tool, especially if the commission intends to trigger the instrument by circumventing the need for unanimity among member states.

Luisa Santos, deputy director-general of the Business Europe association which groups companies across the continent, said that it was awaiting the proposals, adding that any new tool must be “above all a dissuasion tool”. 

“The idea is to deter others from sanctioning the EU and the threat of using the tool should be enough to convince third countries to change their policies,” Santos said. 

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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