The United States is hurting itself by withdrawing from global leadership on trade, Europe’s trade commissioner said on Monday.
The retreat of the US under Donald Trump has prompted countries around the world to seek new trading partners, and the European Union has eagerly filled the gap, Cecilia Malmstrom told Reuters.
The EU is confident again after years of economic crisis, with the bloc also weathering the Brexit vote, she said.
“We have shown that we have overcome that acute crisis, so many countries are turning to Europe for leadership and for partnership,” Malmstrom was quoted as saying in an interview.
Under Malmstrom’s direction, the EU has juggled an array of trade talks over the past year. In July it secured a preliminary deal with Japan. And early this year it hopes to seal pacts with Mexico and the Latin American Mercosur bloc.
The retreat of the United States has played a big role in this push, Malmstrom said.
“With other countries we are now setting the standards and that is also why it is bad for the US to withdraw because there are standards set now and they will be global,” the EU trade tsar said.
Since coming into office one year ago on a promise to put America first, Trump has pulled Washington out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, threatened to scrap the NAFTA and to introduce steel tariffs that could hit European allies as well as China.
But Malmstrom singled out Washington’s confrontational stance towards the World Trade Organization (WTO) as particularly worrying.
The Trump administration has blocked the appointment of judges to a WTO body that rules on trade disputes. If the US 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”, referring to a meeting in Buenos Aires that failed to reach any agreements and descended into acrimony in the face of stinging criticism from the US.
“We want American leadership in the world. They shouldn’t disengage,” Malmstrom said.
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