Europe Between Trump and Xi
French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to advance a new kind of "offensive multilateralism." But unless the European Union as a whole embraces the cause, Europe risks becoming a casualty of China’s efforts to bend the multilateral system to its own will or, worse, Trump’s efforts to dismantle it altogether.
PARIS – The most recent World Trade Organization ministerial conference, held in December in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was a fiasco. Despite a limited agenda, the participants were unable to produce a joint statement. But not everyone was disappointed by that outcome: China maintained a diplomatic silence, while the United States seemed to celebrate the meeting’s failure. This is bad news for Europe, which was virtually alone in expressing its discontent.
It is often pointed out that, in the face of US President Donald Trump’s blinkered protectionism, the European Union has an opportunity to assume a larger international leadership role, while strengthening its own position in global trade. The free-trade agreement recently signed with Japan will give the EU a clear advantage over the US in agriculture, and strengthening trade ties with Mexico could have a similar impact, as the US renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Some suggest that, to strengthen its position further, Europe should team up with China, which, despite its reticence at the WTO conference, has lately attempted to position itself as a champion of multilateralism. A Sino-European partnership could be a powerful force offsetting America’s negative impact on international trade and cooperation.