On December 16, GMF hosted Peter Thompson, the director of Trade and Development for the Directorate General - Trade in the European Commission, for an event entitled "Trade as a Development Tool: A View from the EU." Thompson was joined by respondent Kimberly Elliott of the Center for Global Development, and the event was moderated by GMF Transatlantic Fellow Katrin Kuhlmann.
As the United States develops its trade policy under the Obama administration and assesses changes in its trade preferences programs-which are a key tool in the use of trade policy for development-the European Union is undergoing a more fundamental change in its governance structure thanks to the passage of the Lisbon treaty. This will impact the way that trade is used for development by Europe as the European Parliament becomes more empowered to make decisions about European preference programs and other trade tools.
Thompson pointed out that while trade can and should reduce poverty, the link between trade and development is neither automatic nor immediate. Thus, it is important that policies are well-designed, and that trade-particularly agreements at the multilateral level-be part of a broader development toolkit. He explained the details of the European Union's three different preferences schemes (i.e. GSP, GSP +, and Everything But Arms), pointing out that because of their looming expiration, many of the debates currently happening in the United States will soon come to Europe.
Elliott then expressed hope that preference programs on both sides of the Atlantic be coordinated with one another, made permanent, and provide real, not just nominal, access to export markets. Both panelists as well as moderator Katrin Kuhlmann highlighted the problem of under-utilization of preference programs. Another common theme was the fact that trade policies cannot micro-manage an economy. The best trade policies simply provide truly accessible and meaningful opportunities.
The question and answer session that followed provided opportunity for a discussion about the effects of the European Union's Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) on regional integration in Africa. Though participants expressed skepticism at the EPAs' positive influence to this end, Thompson highlighted the cases of Cariforum and the East African Community, in which the EPAs provided a focal point and impetus for increased integration. Also discussed were the difficulties of global coordination of preference programs, and the differing experiences with the issue of preference erosion in the United States and Europe.