Undersecretary Manlio Di Stefano has attended the informal meeting of European Union Trade Ministers taking place yesterday and today in Marseilles. The agenda includes the reform of the World Trade Organisation and trade relations with the countries of Africa and with the United States of America. Discussions addressed “key questions for households and businesses, with a direct impact on the goods and services traded on the European Single Market and at the international level”, stated Undersecretary Di Stefano.
“Yesterday evening, along with the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, we discussed the need for an institutional reform of that body, to improve its negotiating, monitoring and dispute resolution capacity through a clear, precise and short-term work programme”. Today the focus was on “trade and investment relations with Africa” and “a coordinated approach with the United States on the main technological, economic and commercial issues at the global level”, explained the Undersecretary.
The pandemic crisis has highlighted the importance or the rules underpinning the international trade in health products and, in particular, essential medicinal products. “We feel it is necessary, in this respect, to eliminate the ‘vaccine gap’ between the advanced countries – which benefit from more structured healthcare systems and in which the great majority of the population is vaccinated – and more vulnerable countries, where the vaccination rate is still very low”, stated the Undersecretary.
In this sphere, the EU is taking forward the “Trade and Health” initiative, which Italy has firmly supported from the outset. In the words of Undersecretary Di Stefano, the initiative “aims to reduce export restrictions, ensure that global supply chains function correctly, facilitate logistical and customs procedures and foster the sharing of information and know-how by the enterprises of the different countries to increase producation capacity at the global level”.
As regards trade and investment relations with the African countries, the Undersecretary declared that Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) “are an important instrument to develop value chains – at the regional and bi-regional level between the EU and Africa – focusing on environmental and social sustainability”.
Today’s meeting was also “an important opportunity to exchange views on trade relations with the United States, in view of the upcoming meeting of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council”. This new EU-US forum “enables representatives of the European Union and the United States to exchange views and propose common positions on trade, investment, innovation and trade standards and to maintain and strengthen transatlantic trade relations”, added the Undersecretary.
“In this context, Italy feels it is important to foster renewed cooperation on regulatory issues in order to prevent trade barriers, notably in the sector of emerging technological applications”. In Undersecretary Di Stefano’s words, Italy also intends to foster this cooperation in the area of commercial standards “in all sectors and, as a priority, in the pharmaceutical and machinery and equipment sectors, with a view to preventing supply problems for products such as medicines, semiconductors and rare earth elements”. In the Undersecretary’s view it is, however, important that “this activity should not be an alternative to our already considerable ambition, that of relaunching the WTO”.
In the discussion, the Undersecretary also expressed his hopes for exchanges of good practices on sustainable production and trade, with a view to establishing a common definition of “environmental goods and services” and “the most universal definition possible of the measurement of carbon emissions”.
“Transatlantic trade relations, environmental sustainability and problems related to employment and working conditions – we must give them the same prominence while at the same time averting protectionist measures”, concluded Undersecretary Di Stefano. These are, after all, “highly technical issues on which the future of global trade and so of Italian exports depends”.