In advance of the World Economic Forum, which is set to take place in Davos, Switzerland next week, European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom warned that President Donald Trump is hurting America by withdrawing from international trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
With threats to impose steep tariffs that could hit European allies as well as China, Malmstrom says that the U.S. is “shooting itself in the foot by withdrawing from global leadership on trade,” according to a new report from Reuters.
Malmstrom, 49, of Sweden, has led the EU in a series of trade talks over the past year, with many more to come, and she credits the retreat of the U.S. since Trump took office as the reason so many countries around the world are “desperate for new trading partners.” Malmstrom said that the EU, “confident again after years of economic crisis and Britain’s vote in 2016 to leave the bloc, has eagerly filled the gap.”
“With other countries, we are now setting the standards and that is also why it is bad for the U.S. to withdraw, because there are standards set now and they will be global,” she explained, noting that the Trump administration’s confrontational tone with the World Trade Organization (WTO) is of particular concern.
According to the report:
The Trump administration has blocked the appointment of judges to a WTO body that rules on trade disputes. If the United States does not shift its stance, that body could cease to function altogether, Malmstrom said.
She described a WTO ministerial meeting in December as a “disgrace”. The meeting in Buenos Aires failed to reach any agreements, such as on ending fishing subsidies, and descended into acrimony, in the face of stinging criticism from the United States.
“We want American leadership in the world. They shouldn’t disengage,” Malmstrom said.
Trump will be the headliner in Davos one year after Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to the ski resort in the Swiss Alps and signaled a readiness to assume a leadership role in free trade created by an inward-looking Washington.
Malmstrom described the Xi speech as “brilliant” in terms of content and timing – just three days before Trump’s inauguration.
But she said there had been no change in China’s behavior towards Europe since then. If anything, the hurdles to European investment in China have grown.
The EU seemed to have gained a free trade ally in the world’s second largest economy, but Malmstrom said Beijing had not backed up Xi’s speech with action.
“Maybe he really believes in these things, but we haven’t seen it yet in China,” she said.
“We want to work in China and we want China to invest here, but the level playing field is not there. We haven’t seen anything concrete in our trade relationship.”