Phil Hogan tells MEPs he will ‘promote EU values’ in trade brief

Incoming EU commissioner says climate concerns ‘must be firmly built into our trade agenda’

EU commissioner for trade Phil Hogan arrives for his hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday. Photograph:  Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

EU commissioner for trade Phil Hogan arrives for his hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

 

The EU’s trade policy must be used to “promote our values… especially in areas like climate action, sustainable development, labour rights, standards, and women’s empowerment,” Phil Hogan told MEPs on Monday.

Facing criticism from Greens and the left, as well as Irish farmers, over the draft Mercosur deal between the EU and four south American countries, Mr Hogan pre-empted challenges, batting on the front foot, championing action on the climate and defending the “sustainability chapters” of recent trade agreements as important leverage for the EU on the issue.

“The deeper focus on climate and sustainability in the incoming Commission reflects citizens’ expectations. Therefore, these values must be firmly built into our trade agenda,” he said.

Mr Hogan, Ireland’s agriculture commissioner, was being grilled by MEPs in the trade committee for his new job in charge of the trade portfolio.

Over the course of the next week, 24 commission nominees will face questions in front of the expert committees associated with their briefs. Two, the Romanian and the Hungarian nominees, have already been rejected over alleged conflicts of interest.

Their names go back to Commission president Ursula van der Leyen with the implicit threat that the parliament will use its power to vote down the whole lists unless they are replaced.

Earlier, Maroš Šefèoviè, nominated as vice- president for interinstitutional relations and foresight, courted MEPs with the promise that he would enhance their role. He pledged new legislative clout by instituting a “right of initiative” for MEPs who currently can amend legislation but not initiate it.

On the UK’s planned exit from the EU, Mr Hogan said the “Commission has prepared exhaustively for a no-deal Brexit”. His new directorate will be centrally involved in talks on the future relationship with the UK.

WTO rulebook

Responding to criticism of the Mercosur agreement, Mr Hogan insisted that it was through the negotiation on the agreement that Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro committed his country to adhering to the Paris accord and to the reafforestation of 12 million hectares of forest.

He spoke of a “a critical moment for multilateralism and for a fragile, global trading system” and the vital need to update the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to prevent the collapse of its dispute settlement system

“The rulebook needs to be updated to address issues such as the rampant use of subsidies by China and others, and forced technology transfer.

“Some of the concerns of the US about the global trading system are ones that we share, though we firmly believe that changes are best achieved within rules,” he said.

“We share a common understanding on the challenges posed by China’s use of subsidies and the heavy involvement of the state in its economy. It stands to reason that we should find grounds to cooperate with our transatlantic allies on such strategic questions.”

He said he would hope to improve the relationship with the US – “but it takes two to tango,” he said — and expressed concerns at retaliatory measures against EU firms arising from the WTO ruling on subsidies to Airbus. The US, he said, should hasten slowly as a similar ruling was expected to favour the EU in the soon-to-be-decided Boeing case.

Asked about enhancing enforcement of trade agreements, Mr Hogan spoke of the appointment by the EU of a chief trade enforcement officer at a senior level in his directorate and pledged to ensure adequate funding for the new office.

Citing his involvement in agriculture in a groundbreaking EU/African Union rural development project, Mr Hogan emphasised the need to make EU trade with Africa an even greater priority.

Responding to Green MEP Heidi Hauttalla, Mr Hogan said that he would be open to co-operating with MEPs in legislating for zero tolerance of child labour by requiring mandatory due diligence reports in trade agreements. He pledged to build on his predecessor, Cecilia Malmstrom’s, work in building gender-proofing and women’s empowerment into trade agreements.