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EPLO webinar on EU-US Trade Relations Amidst The Pandemic


In cooperation with the Meridian International Center


Earl Blumenauer, Congressman, Democrat-Oregon; Chairman, House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee
Bernd Lange, Member of Parliament (MEP), Chairman, Committee on International Trade
Moderator, Carlos Gutierrez, Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group; Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce


EU lawmaker Bernd Lange and US Congress Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) spoke on EU-US trade relations with the Honorable Carlos Gutierrez moderating the discussion. Despite recent setbacks and ongoing irritants, the parliamentarians remained hopeful of future EU-US trade progress, calling the transatlantic partnership one of “the most important economic relationships in the world.”


Written by EPLO Intern, Katherine Schauer

MEP Bernd Lange’s opening remarks: It is a dream to have a comprehensive trade agreement between the EU and US. Despite TTIP’s failures, the EU and US have common values and interests. Our trade relations are two-sided. On one side, both blocks are looking to increase exports, protect domestic labor, and are having difficulty with China. On the other side, there are lots of trade irritants from the last four years, starting with the steel and aluminum tariffs and continuing with the investigation on car tariffs and 301 act investigations (referencing harbor cranes). This is not a way for allies to deal with each other. Finally highlighted the ongoing Boeing-Airbus conflict; there’s a real possibility for the US to set tariffs on EU products. It would be useful to have a discussion on compliance so there isn’t an escalation in tariffs. It’s also a common interest “to define clear rules for state aid” in exporting industries. His impression is that until the election on November 4th, no real negotiation possible. Regardless of the election outcome, the EU and US must “go back to the table and negotiate.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s opening remarks: US tariff system was created during a different time, and the post WWII framework doesn’t match up with current realities. Pointed out that auto imports being considered a national security threat “is bizarre and unfortunate.” Still believes engaging China in the WTO had potential, and the US should encourage a more productive bilateral relationship. “All our major challenges today require that we engage in a multilateral faction,” mentioning climate change and the pandemic. Thinks there will be a “course correction” in the US in 4 months’ time due to political ramifications of COVID and the economy for the President and for the Congress. Spoke of the relative success of renegotiating NAFTA, including improved labor and environmental standards. Also mentioned intellectual property protections sought by US pharmaceutical interests in USMCA being struck out by Congress. Encouraged about the potential of negotiations with the EU, calling the transatlantic relationship the most important economic relationship for the world. High EU labor standards could set an example for improved labor standards in the US. Looking forward to a new and better chapter in trade relations.

Opening remarks were followed by a brief discussion answering audience questions guided by moderator Hon. Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez marveled at EU unification, calling it a shining example of regionalization. What happens to that unification in regards to trade negotiations with the US? Will the EU have to be flexible on its standards to secure a US deal?

Lange: USMCA and Vietnam deals show trade negotiations are an important purview of parliaments. Believes neither block will be able to change their existing standards: we can’t really say one party’s standards is safer than the other. Instead, we should discuss which standards can be recognized as equivalent, thus saving time and money on duplicate certification. For future standards, referencing blockchain and other digital issues, the EU and US can work together to set global standards. This is an opportunity to create new standards together for emerging industries.

Blumenauer: Interested in seeing how the UK will extricate itself from the EU and its standards.

Karim Lesina, Senior Vice President of International External & Regulatory Affairs, AT&T: How do you see the possibility for a common WTO Director-General candidate?

Lange: Need new WTO rules and reform, bringing the US back into the tent, and reform of WTO government structure. Should give Africa a more important role and increase female representation in leadership. We need to look beyond the country a candidate comes from and see whether they can be “an engine for change.” INTA committee will hear from the candidates before choosing one to support.

Blumenauer: The US helped set up the WTO and benefited from using it as a forum; hopes in 4 months the US will have a different attitude and take a new approach to the WTO.

Omar Vargas, Global Head of Government Affairs, 3M: 50 countries imposed export bans on PPE, including European countries. As we prepare for a “second wave” of the pandemic, what are your thoughts/observations on managing trade in PPE?

Blumenauer: Shouldn’t use restrictions on PPE trade to cover up for a government’s failures to properly prepare for the pandemic. Worried about the implications of restricting PPE trade on the production and distribution of a vaccine.

Lange: Restriction and bans are the wrong answer. We must stabilize the supply change and extend WTO pharma negotiations to PPE. Must improve supply chain robustness.

Gutierrez: China is the elephant in the room. Is there a risk that China tries to split apart the EU and US on trade?

Lange: EP is in ongoing discussions on its China strategy, noting the human rights situation in Hong Kong and Uyghur slave labor are antithetical to EP interests. Also made clear we cannot isolate China, otherwise it will continue to act against EU-US interests. We need Chinese cooperation in the WTO, emphasizing cooperation, not isolation.

Blumenauer: Also noted the treatment of Uyghurs and protestors in Hong Kong is deeply concerning. Sadly, the US has isolated itself. The US cannot achieve its interests in China through “drive-by tariffs” and unilateral actions. Hopes the US shifts gears in November.



Watch a recording of the event here: