BRUSSELS - The European Union on Tuesday told President Donald Trump that his “America First” and protectionist trade policies are “doomed to fail” and said the kind of trade deals like the one he scuttled with the Asian Pacific countries “are a handy scapegoat.”
Instead of protectionism, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the EU -- the world’s biggest trading bloc -- remains committed to open borders and economies. She insisted that most countries still share the same vision of open commerce and investments.
“Those who in the 21st century think that we can become great again by rebuilding borders, reimposing trade barriers, restricting people’s freedom to move, they are doomed to fail,” Malmstrom said during a speech.
It was the most comprehensive and scathing EU reaction since Trump came into office Friday.
“Building a wall is not the answer,” Malmstrom told an audience at the Bruegel think tank. “The success of the EU relies on our open societies.”
Trump’s decision to pull out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership on Monday was seen as an indication of a more closed U.S. trade policy that could include tariffs on some imports and exclude foreign competition to favor local industry.
Trump argued he was protecting domestic jobs by pulling out of the agreement, which would have lowered barriers to trade between the Pacific countries. Malmstrom insisted the problem is an inability of economies to deal with evolution -- in this case “automation: with machines and computers replacing manual work.”
“Against this reality, trade deals are a handy scapegoat,” she said.
The Europeans had wanted to seal a free trade deal between the EU and U.S., the world’s two biggest economies, before President Barack Obama left office. Proponents said it would have added about 100 billion euros (about $100 billion) a year in output to each side.
“The election of Donald Trump seems likely to put our EU-U.S. negotiations firmly in the freezer,” said Malmstrom.
Instead, she said that the EU would now center its efforts on deals with some other nations and blocs, including Japan, Mexico and the Mercosur South American trade group.
And as Trump has been talking about undoing NAFTA, the North America free trade deal, the EU is on the verge of clinching an agreement with Canada. Both sides have already signed, and the European Parliament is set to ratify it next month.
Malmstrom said the alternative to such far-reaching agreements “is little short of catastrophic.”