Now here’s an interesting one. (And please note that in keeping with recent Fistful tradition – as identified by Ms T – I am putting a question mark before the title). Pascal Lamy is reportedly considering a discussion paper which proposes allowing countries to impose import bans on products from other countries that do not share their national values and standards.
Now I’m not very convinced that Lamy will take this especially seriously, since I think this type of approach raises more problems that it even purports to solve, but………..it does raise a lot of the interesting issues which have been really facing the EU for some time now. The key question, I suppose, is how you even begin to define ‘national values’. And is the idea that each country in the Union could impose it’s own (eg a Haider influenced Austria?). In which case what becomes of the customs union?
And if we have to define shared community values – well look at the difficulties we are having with the consitution. The problem is there are genuine issues packed away with the old stalking horses. How do we resolve the question of what our food contains? I personally have no strong objection to genetically modified foods, for example, but I can respect the fact that others do, in the same way I can respect the fact that some people want to be vegetarians. So how do we go about setting frontiers. Equally, we might want to practice a trade boycott on a brutal and barbaric dictatorship.
On the other hand many of these proposals could be seen as a Trojan horse, to sneak in all the concerns about ‘social dumping’ etc. And again, they could be just yet another indication that we are once more drifting towards a protectionist environment. We point the finger at the US, and then try to do something similar via the back door. As I said, this probably won’t get very far, but the issues are worthy of our consideration. Off you go:
Governments would be allowed to ban imports from countries that did not share their national values and standards under proposals for radical changes to global trade rules being studied by Pascal Lamy, Europe’s trade commissioner.
The changes are put forward in a discussion paper prepared for Mr Lamy, who has not taken a position on the issue, by his staff and outside advisers. His spokeswoman said he wanted to launch a debate at a conference this summer.
The paper says legalising curbs on imports that do not meet individual societies’ “collective preferences” would promote global economic integration by reducing international tensions.
World Trade Organisation rules prohibit import bans except in specified circumstances, such as when products are found to be unsafe.
However, the paper says the WTO rules give too much weight to science and too little to local social and political sensitivities.
The paper does not detail what kinds of imports the European Union might want to restrict. However, it says divergent national regulations and public attitudes worldwide threaten to create growing trade frictions over environmental policy and in sectors such as agriculture, services, software and pharmaceuticals.
The EU is under strong international pressure over its regulatory policies because of its long-standing ban on hormone-treated beef and de facto moratorium on approving genetically modified crops.
The US and other countries say the measures violate World Trade Organisation rules, though many European consumers support them.
The paper insists it is not seeking a pretext to erect new import barriers. However, it acknowledges that economic liberals and developing countries – long hostile to efforts to link trade and social standards – might attack the idea as protectionist and Eurocentric.
“Mr Lamy believes ‘collective preferences’ will shape trade policy increasingly in the future,” his spokeswoman said. “He believes this is a debate we should have.”
The paper says global integration is entering a new phase that directly threatens countries’ social models and regulatory systems, increasing the risk of “ideological” trade conflicts that will be hard to resolve through existing international mechanisms.
Efforts to harmonise international standards, and rulings by the WTO’s dispute settlement procedures, are not enough to prevent future trade conflicts, the paper says.
Governments imposing trade restrictions would need to show they were based on genuine public demand and social priorities.