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Karel De Gucht
European Commissioner for Trade
Thriving in a global economy
Launch: "Spirits: A European Power House for Trade"
Brussels, 25 June 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
The international success of the European spirits industry is based on tradition.
Consumers around the world look to European products because of our strong sense of the past. Time itself is a key ingredient in many of them.
But for all the importance of heritage, your industry is also an excellent example of how European companies can prosper today and adapt for the future; and in doing so create jobs and business opportunities for the people of the European Union.
The report we are launching today shows the lessons you can teach others about how to thrive in a global economy.
First, your target market is the world. We all know the advantages that come with the European Single Market. Having such a home is invaluable for any company. But it's not enough.
Over the next twenty years 90% of the world's growth is going to happen outside of the European Union's borders.
So the more European companies are ready to meet that demand, the better off will be the 500 million citizens of the European Union.
Second, the report shows how you can compete on quality - and indeed how quality is becoming ever more important to your export success.
That shows us that European companies cannot rest on their laurels. A tradition only has value if it continues to produce high quality results. If not, it's just a tourist attraction.
Producing high-value added goods is essential for a developed economy like ours – because high-value goods – incorporating skill and experience - allow for well-paying jobs for people with those skills and that experience. This is relevant across the board for the European economy.
Finally, the report shows the importance of intellectual property. We have to protect both your individual company trademarks and the more than 300 geographical indications linked to spirits – not just Scotch and Irish whiskies or Cognac but also Polish vodka, Orujo de Galicia and many others.
Why? Because intellectual property is how we monetise quality. It's essential for the model of a European economy that specialises in the high value tasks of global value chains.
So the model of your industry is encouraging. It can show the way for others who are struggling to find their place.
And that is how Europe will gradually adapt to this changed world – company by company – understanding and preparing for the future.
But there is, I believe, an important role for government in all of this.
I see the role of government – and of the European Union's trade policy in particular – as facilitating the connections that bring prosperity back to Europe.
That means making sure Europe has an open economy, so that companies that are part of global value chains can gain access to the best quality goods and services from around the world, at the best prices.
Even for an industry such as yours, for whom local production and local ingredients are so important, access to internationally traded goods and services does play a role, whether those are capital goods, transport, logistics or finance.
This access is essential for Europe's broader competitiveness.
But as your report highlights, in an economy like ours it's not just political decisions made in Europe that count.
Governments around the world make decisions that affect your ability to do business every day – like levying a discriminatory excise duty or using unfair methods to value goods at the border. And by getting in the way of your exports, they undermine your ability to bring growth back home to Europe.
The underlying goal of the European Union's trade policy is to make sure that those decisions are made in a fair and balanced way.
How should we do it?
Our first priority must remain the World Trade Organisation.
The multilateral system has been through a difficult decade, and the issues at the core of the Doha Round are still not resolved.
But a system that allows us to deal with so many partners at the same time – that establishes uniform rules for almost the entire world economy and that is backed up by the world's best international dispute settlement system must be preserved and expanded.
Last December in Bali, WTO Members showed they understand this. The deal on trade facilitation reached there will directly benefit the spirits industry – simplifying customs and border procedures across the world.
We now need to make sure that deal is implemented, and get to work on what remains to be done.
The second major task for EU trade policy is to complete our unprecedented agenda of bilateral free trade agreements.
The virtue of these negotiations is two-fold. On the one hand, they allow us to move ahead with opening markets with those countries who are willing, rather than be held back by those who are more reluctant.
This has allowed us to put in place deals with Korea, Columbia, Peru and Latin America. It is what has brought us close to achieving final deals with Canada and Singapore. And it is why we are engaged in major initiatives with the United States, Japan, India, Mercosur and several ASEAN countries.
The second reason free trade agreements are important is because they allow us to go deeper, tackling more of the issues that affect businesses.
Of course that includes India's 150% tariff on spirits. But it also allows us to promote the enforcement of intellectual property rights in Latin America and tackle discriminatory technical labelling regulations all around the world.
The final pillar of our work is enforcement. And it is necessary because negotiations have no value if the agreements reached are not put into practice.
As your report highlights, our case against the Philippines' discriminatory excise duties is one example of how the WTO's dispute settlement system can be very effective. We are committed to using that system whenever it is necessary – just as we are committed to using our trade defence measures when those are required.
These legal tools are complemented by our Market Access Strategy, which uses all channels of trade diplomacy to help us focus governments' minds on problems that need to be solved. This approach has allowed us to resolve issues around distribution in Vietnam and push for progress where difficulties have arisen in China and Russia.
Ladies and gentlemen,
All in all this is a comprehensive strategy to make sure Europe is well placed for another century of prosperity as the world changes around us.
We will be able to put this strategy into practice for as long as the European people understand that our economy as a whole benefits from being part of an open global system.
Most people do see that the rise of vast new economic powerhouses is also the rise of vast new markets for European goods and services.
But many of them also see that globalisation presents challenges for Europe, most of all the need to adapt to rapid changes and deal with new competitors.
As the European elections have confirmed, some – a minority but a significant one – wish to react to these challenges by shutting our doors. I do not believe that would be anything other than a disaster for the European Union. And I'm confident you agree with me.
That means it is very important that people understand how open markets help industries such as yours to be successful.
People need to know that shoppers in China and the United States are buying high-quality goods from all across Europe. And they need to know what that means for their local economies.
It is certainly the role of politicians to tell that story. I do it wherever I go.
But you as companies have the specific examples of how international trade helps real people at home.
And now more than ever, it's essential for that story to be heard.
Thank you very much for your attention.