GENEVA — Trading partners, including the U.S. and China, gave the European Union kudos for its strong integration in global markets, but also aired concerns about lingering market barriers such as peak tariffs in sensitive products like apparel in a World Trade Organization forum.
“Our economic relationship with the EU is immensely valuable to our economy and is indeed a critical pillar of the global economy,” said Michael Punke, U.S. ambassador to the WTO during a two-day review of the EU’s trade policy that ended Wednesday. “Each day, goods and services worth nearly $3 billion are traded across the Atlantic. At the end of 2013, the value of our direct investment in each other’s economies totaled nearly $4.1 trillion.”
Punke, who is also the chief U.S. negotiator in talks with the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, said a 10th round of T-TIP talks, to be held next week in Brussels, “remains a top priority” of both sides.
In the WTO review, Punke also highlighted the high EU tariffs in agriculture and nontariff measures that pose significant barriers to U.S. exports, including policies related to technical regulations and standards.
A report compiled by the WTO secretariat shows that aside from agriculture, the average EU tariff for 341 apparel products in 2014 was 11.6 percent compared with an overall average of 4.3 percent on industrial goods. Similarly, average EU tariffs for 850 textile products were 6.6 percent.
Taiwan questioned the EU’s tariff rates for man-made filaments and man-made staple fibers and claimed it made it difficult for its exporters.
Yu Jianhua, China’s WTO ambassador, said the EU holds a vital position in today’s global economy and noted the EU is China’s biggest trading partner. In 2014, Yu said bilateral trade volume grew steadily and stood at $600 billion, representing a 7 percent increase year-over-year.
Angelos Pangratis, the EU ambassador to the WTO, said the 28-country bloc is the first export destination for 55 WTO members, and the second for 32 other members. He also noted that negotiation of comprehensive and ambitious free-trade agreements between the EU and other advanced trading partners such as the U.S. is “an important policy development.”
Reflecting the growing importance of e-commerce, many WTO trading partners also probed the EU on policy developments in this domain and their possible impact on retail trade. The WTO report outlines that the bloc’s e-commerce market is growing quickly, “but from low initial levels,” and adds that between 2009 and 2014, it grew 119 percent. It also only represents about 6.7 percent of the overall EU retail market, against 3.2 percent in 2009.
The EU estimates e-commerce last year was valued at more than 200 billion euros, or $220 billion.