What’s the status of EU-US trade and technology cooperation?

Brussels, 9th April 2024 – Hundreds of stakeholders and journalists descended on Leuven, Belgium, on April 4th and 5th to attend the sixth edition of the Trade and Technology Council and hear what several high-level EU and US leaders had to say on relations between the two parties. The Council, set up by US President Joe Biden in 2021 in an attempt to mitigate the array of anti-trade tariffs introduced under the Trump presidency, is a key forum to discuss issues regarding trade and technology relations between the US and the EU.

Photo credit @ BE Presidency 2024

Co-chaired by European Commission Executive Vice Presidents Margrethe Vestager and Valdis Dombrovskis, alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Belgian Prime Minister and Head of Belgian Presidency to the EU Alexander de Croo, the summit aimed to bolster transatlantic ties and address pressing global trade challenges. 

Despite the high-level nature of the conference, the agreements were “rather mundane” according to Politico, with few large outcomes to splash across the headlines. Nevertheless, several key agreements and reiterations of transatlantic technology and trade commitments were made during the summit. Here are the key takeaways for entrepreneurs and SMEs in Europe. 

Photo credit @ BE Presidency 2024

Greater Voice for SMEs in Digital Transition

The European Union and the United States reiterated their agreement that SMEs can benefit greatly from using digital tools to grow and compete, and have committed to continue to work together to promote the uptake of digital technologies by SMEs on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Both sides have been working together to encourage SMEs to adopt these technologies, with concrete actions including data collection from SMEs in both administrations, which resulted in webinars and the development of a common set of recommendations for SMEs focused on the topics of digital-related trainings; transatlantic exchange programmes; information-sharing on cyber-security, intellectual property, and standards; and access to finance.

On the horizon is the development of an implementation programme for these recommendations including a webinar on access to finance and the publishing of cross-referenced European Union and United States websites with practical information for SMEs.

Sustainable Trade

Both parties highlighted the importance of forging a sustainable, resilient, and secure transatlantic marketplace. Through initiatives like the Transatlantic Initiative on Sustainable Trade (TIST), the US and EU agree to promote environmentally responsible trade through diversifying strategic supply chains, standardising critical technologies, and mitigating vulnerabilities stemming from non-market policies.

Collaboration efforts, such as the “Crafting the Transatlantic Green Marketplace” event, offer SMEs opportunities to engage with stakeholders from both the European Union and the United States to identify avenues for transatlantic cooperation in sustainable and climate-neutral economies.

Photo credit @ BE Presidency 2024

eInvoicing Interoperability

Greater cooperation between the US and the EU on electronic invoicing (eInvoicing) presents SMEs with efficiency gains and trade benefits. Efforts to ensure compatibility between eInvoicing systems would significantly streamline cross-market transactions and trade dynamics, opening new avenues for SMEs to expand their reach across the Atlantic.

However, this remains a challenge as there remain differences between eInvoicing systems between the two parties. The US and the EU agreed to continue to cooperate and coordinate for greater compatibility, particularly in terms of business and technical interoperability.

Trade and Labour in the Green Transition

During the summit, the EU and US held their third session of the tripartite Transatlantic Trade and Labour Dialogue (TALD). The EU and the US created the TALD during their second Trade and Technology Council meeting on May 16, 2022, to increase dialogue on how to help workers and employers make successful digital and green transitions, remain globally competitive, and achieve inclusive prosperity.

This session emphasised the importance of sustainable and responsible supply chains with robust labour protections, building on the workshop “Promotion of Good Quality Jobs for a Successful, Just and Inclusive Green Transition”. 

Both parties reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate to eliminate forced labour from global supply chains and to continue to promote good quality jobs aligning with ethical business practices.

Photo credit @ BE Presidency 2024

Talent for Growth

Talent for growth is essential for SMEs as it drives innovation, ensures adaptability to evolving technology, and meets business needs effectively. By greater inclusion of underrepresented groups in technical roles and promoting a skills-first culture, SMEs can tap into diverse talent pools and foster a dynamic workforce. 

The US-EU partnership launched the Talent for Growth Task Force in April 2023 to serve as a platform for best practices and a catalyst for innovative skills approaches that promote economic growth and create opportunities for workers in the technology sector. 

Identifying training workers to meet business needs, moving to a skills-first culture, and micro-credentials, and most importantly,  including underrepresented groups in technical jobs as key areas of improvement, the task force released a statement promoting key message and wrapped up it’s work within it’s year-long mandate.

While committing generally to remaining “dedicated to continuing to equip our workforces with the skills necessary to meet the needs created by rapidly changing technology”, neither the US nor the EU committed to implementing recommendations from the task force which represents a shortcoming from this summit. 

Both the EU and the US need to develop a clear policy on inclusive entrepreneurship to address shortages in these areas. 

UNITEE’s European Agenda for Inclusive Entrepreneurship outlines key policy initiatives to unlock the potential of diverse entrepreneurs across Europe. From fostering an inclusive environment to empowering entrepreneurs, the agenda offers a strategic framework for sustainable economic growth and societal progress.

Photo credit @ BE Presidency 2024

What’s next?

Despite the high-level participants and wide range of topics discussed during the two-day summit in Leuven, there were few concrete outcomes from the summit. More structured action is required to increase cooperation and business interoperability between the two sides, with greater dedication to issues including e-invoicing, managing the green and digital transition, and increasing inclusion in trade and technology to navigate global challenges, drive innovation, and seize new opportunities in the ever-evolving global economic landscape.


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