EU Ambassador Talks Transatlantic Trade

Ambassador of the European Union to the United States David O’Sullivan discussed transatlantic trade relations and global challenges to trade negotiations at an event in the Rafik B. Hariri Building on Oct. 7.

The event marks the latest installment in the annual Global Embassy Series organized by the McDonough Global Student Association with the help of MSB Senior Associate Dean Norean Sharpe and MSB Senior Assistant Dean Monija Amani. Previous iterations have featured ambassadors from Mexico and Spain.

O’Sullivan served as the Chief Operating Officer of the European External Action Service and Head of Cabinet and Secretary-General of the European Commission prior to his appointment as ambassador to United States. His primary duties now focus on negotiating trade agreements between the EU and emerging markets around the world.

“Trade is an absolutely fascinating subject,” O’Sullivan said. “I studied economics, and I’m truly skeptical about whether economics can be considered a science. … But there is one law of economics that I absolutely believe in, and that is the law of comparative advantage.”

According to O’Sullivan, the EU recognizes the importance of free trade, despite its potential detriments.

“Trade truly has been at the heart of economic and social progress,” O’Sullivan said. “While I think that we have to acknowledge there is a downside to trade … any attempt to stifle trade is ultimately counterproductive.”

The ambassador spoke about his experiences in trying to expand the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organization through agreements between the EU and nations in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, which created tighter economic ties between the regions.

He also discussed coordination problems facing the WTO as the number of its member states increases.

“The World Trade Organization now has 163 members and, to be frank, it has become increasingly difficult to get those 163 members to find a right balance between the give and take of trade negotiations,” O’Sullivan said.

According to O’Sullivan, negotiations are particularly difficult to carry out with emerging economies.

“They felt that in some way the rules of the game were stacked against them by the West, the United States and Europe,” O’Sullivan said.

O’Sullivan concluded the lecture by praising the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In a question-and-answer session, audience members asked O’Sullivan to share his thoughts on the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal and the impact of a referendum in the United Kingdom on leaving the EU.

Salome Kakulia (COL ’19), an attendee of the lecture, said she resonated with the discussion on emerging markets.

“The thing that was really interesting for me was that since I’m from Georgia, I wondered about the impact trade should have on developing countries,” Kakulia said.

Sharpe said that she found O’Sullivan’s comments on trade in the EU and the global economy to be particularly insightful.

“I thought that the ambassador gave a terrific overview of the history of the EU, the importance of the EU and how critical these trade agreements are for a healthy global economy,” Sharpe said.

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