The Chinese love German cars and Italian fashion. Americans buy electronic toys and textiles from Asia. We Europeans drink orange juice from Florida, coffee from Central America, and watch TV series from Hollywood. Many of the products we use in our daily lives only exist because they were transnationally manufactured.
In times of globalisation, exchange with countries outside the EU is increasingly important. Global trade is improving our lives. Conversely, many jobs and much of our prosperity stem from the fact that Europe can sell its products all around the world. Many of the major growth markets are outside the EU, and taking a global approach is an opportunity for Europe.
Free trade requires a commitment
But free trade and global cooperation are threatened. In America, president Donald Trump is advocating “America First” rather than free trade. China continues to close itself off to European companies. And the EU is also struggling to open new markets: Europe was only able to achieve a free trade agreement with Canada with great effort, and despite lengthy negotiations, a trade agreement with the US is still outstanding.
Free trade requires tireless political commitment. While it is up to companies to find customers in other parts of the world and sell their products to them, this can only really be effective if, for example, no customs duties are levied on foreign goods, making them more expensive than they need to be.
Representation of interests at eye level
The EU is in a better position than its individual member states to negotiate these conditions for the exchange with other countries and continents. In Europe, countries like Germany, Italy and France might carry weight, but compared with superpowers like the US and China, they are simply not big enough. The EU with its more than 500 million citizens, on the other hand, is able to represent our interests as Europeans internationally on an equal footing.
And there are indeed some positive signs. Europe has just concluded a new free trade agreement with Japan. Negotiations have largely been finalised with Mexico and an association of South American states.
The EU needs to continue along this path and remain committed to interaction and exchange with other countries around the world, perhaps more than ever before. Because if other states only look inwards, it is even more important for Europe to promote free trade.