1. Why does the World Trade Organization (WTO) need to be modernised?

German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier wishes to use the Informal Meeting of EU Trade Ministers in order to provide further support to the process of modernising the World Trade Organization (WTO), since the functions of this international organisation are vital components for resolving the COVID-19 crisis.

This includes international cooperation, rules-based trade and open markets. Reforms will need to be implemented in order to strengthen legal certainty in international trade relations.

We must therefore reform the WTO dispute settlement system. Plurilateral initiatives are also important, especially in relation to digital trade. This will make an important contribution towards ensuring the resilience of supply chains.

2. Is sustainability an important factor for EU free trade agreements?

Yes, the EU is pursuing an ambitious trade policy with aspirational and binding sustainability clauses.

The EU’s current approach to implementing and enforcing sustainability clauses in EU free trade agreements strengthens and affirms, in particular, international rules and their enforcement mechanisms.

Following this approach will enable many sustainability issues to be addressed in the areas of labour, climate and the environment, biodiversity and so on. Dialogue and long-term partnerships will also be promoted.

Continuously supporting various parties, transparently communicating with stakeholders and civil society and implementing effective monitoring measures will mean that a high level of willingness to implement, observe and enforce rules can be expected as a result.

3. What is the Green Deal and how does it affect EU trade policy?

At the end of 2019, the EU Commission presented a Communication on the European Green Deal with the aim of transforming Europe into the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

The Green Deal will be able to bring about sustainable growth within Europe only if it adequately addresses the COVID-19 crisis and harmonises the process of bolstering our economy with our climate protection objectives.

It will be essential to have well thought out, realistic and concrete proposals. Every planned measure will strictly require an impact assessment. The same applies to the idea of making the Paris Agreement on climate change an “essential element” of each (trade) agreement.

With respect to EU trade policy, sustainability clauses in free trade agreements will need to be effectively enforced.

Moreover, a carbon border adjustment mechanism must not lead to further trade conflicts; it should be compatible with WTO rules and provide for effective protection against carbon leakage.

To this end, it will be essential to conduct an open and unbiased impact assessment that evaluates all options.