EU Trade Policy amid the China-US Clash: Caught in the Cross-Fire?

Anabel González (PIIE) and Nicolas Véron (PIIE)

Working Paper
19-13
August 2019
Photo Credit: 
REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

China's rapid rise and unique economic system and the increasingly aggressive and disruptive US trade policy are posing an unprecedented threat to the global rules-based trading and economic system. The European Union has critical interests at stake in the current escalation, even as it has so far been comparatively spared from US trade policy belligerence and China's reactions. In this context, the European Union should adopt an independent and proactive stance, building on recent efforts and going beyond them.

The European Union, even more than the United States or China, has a strategic interest in the preservation of the global rules-based order embodied by the World Trade Organization (WTO). It must play a leading role in steering WTO reform and modernization, working closely with broadly aligned third countries such as Japan and other players. It should expand its outreach beyond its immediate negotiating counterparts in both the United States and China, and leading European officials at both the EU and member state levels should work at better understanding China. While strengthening its domestic policy instruments to address new challenges, such as the screening of foreign direct investment for security purposes, the European Union must also resist its own temptations of protectionism and economic nationalism.

In support of these objectives, the European Union should prepare itself for difficult decisions, which may involve revising some of its current red lines in international trade negotiations. Conversely, the European Union should stand firm on principles such as refusing one-sided agreements and rejecting abusive recourse to national security arguments in trade policies. The European Parliament, in working with the European Council and the European Commission, will have a critical role to play in steering the European Union through these challenging times.