New EU Trade Commissioner sees more engagement from China than US
Several trade deals are being negotiated or implemented involving the US, China, Japan and EU
8 Oct 2019 | Michael Marray

The complexities of negotiating with the Trump administration were highlighted by the nominee for EU Trade Commissioner in last week’s confirmation hearing at the European Parliament.

Phil Hogan said that he wants to sign a trade agreement with the US, but added that "it takes two to tango".

"We have an engagement with China, we do not have an engagement with the United States currently, and I hope that we will," says Hogan, who for the past five years has served as the EU agriculture commissioner.

A series of overlapping trade deals are currently being negotiated or put in place, involving the US, China, Japan and the EU, and they could impact on one another. The UK could soon be added to the list. With Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisting that Brexit really will happen on October 31, the UK would also be looking for a fast track free trade negotiation with the US.

On September 25, US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed a limited trade deal that cuts tariffs on US agricultural goods, Japanese machine tools and other products while postponing any threat of higher US auto tariffs.

Abe then flew on to Europe, where he signed a cooperation agreement on infrastructure, which is clearly aimed at countering the influence of the Belt & Road Initiative - even though China was never mentioned by name.

The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker invited Abe to deliver a keynote speech at the opening plenary of the Europa Connectivity Forum on September 27. The first edition of the forum was held under the theme “EU-Asia Connectivity: Building Bridges for a Sustainable Future”.

In his speech, Abe said that in order to make the connectivity linking Japan and Europe rock-solid, the Indo-Pacific, the sea route that leads to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, must be free and open.

Meanwhile, he noted that under the “Western Balkans Cooperation Initiative,” the Japanese government has recently appointed a roving ambassador focused exclusively on this region. Analysts point to the Western Balkans as an area where the EU is concerned about growing Chinese influence.

Also recently, at the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development, convened by his government, Japan made a pledge to the more than 40 national leaders that were present. That pledge was to provide quality infrastructure and make every possible effort to provide assistance so that the recipients will not be ensnared in debt. This is the very same as the pledge the EU is carrying out towards Africa, Abe noted.

Juncker and Abe then signed the Partnership on Sustainable Connectivity and Quality Infrastructure between the European Union and Japan.

Also present were the presidents of European and international financial institutions, including Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank, Suma Chakrabarti, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Takehiko Nakao, President of the Asian Development Bank, as well as leading business and finance executives from Europe and Asia.

The plan will be backed by a 60-billion-euro (US$65.48 billion) EU guarantee fund, which the EU says would be used to attract further investments from development banks and private investors

Juncker will be gone at the end of the month, as a new five-year European Commission begins under the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen.

One of its priorities will be to formulate a strategy to counter growing Chinese influence via the Belt & Road Initiative.

Meanwhile, China and the United States are continuing with their high-level trade negotiations this week, with the 13th round of talks taking place in Washington. 

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