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Ursula von der Leyen's Ambitious Trade Efforts Fall Short

Ursula von der Leyen's Ambitious Trade Efforts Fall Short

Ursula von der Leyen has been actively pursuing trade agreements worldwide since 2019, aiming to strengthen Europe's trading position. However, her extensive travel and efforts have not resulted in the anticipated number of trade deals. Her commitment to leveraging trade for Europe's interests has faced recent hurdles, including a canceled summit in Rio de Janeiro that was supposed to seal a long-awaited trade pact with the Mercosur countries.
Complications from a political shift in Argentina and resistance from France's President Macron have contributed to the stagnation of the Mercosur deal, which appeared challenging from the beginning due to consistent opposition. Questions arise whether von der Leyen set the bar too high given her limited influence and the complex nature of trade negotiations within the EU framework.

Von der Leyen's approach to trade, which involves balancing economic interests with sustainability and geopolitics, has put her in a politically challenging position, especially with the European Parliament elections looming. The EU's recent alignment with environmental priorities has affected trade talks, including the insertion of sustainability components, which some partners resist.

Despite managing the EU’s broad network of trade agreements, the Commission faces challenges in advancing new deals due to internal debates between free trade proponents and those favoring protectionism. France, for instance, appreciates the Commission's more assertive and balanced trade policy, though it welcomed the deferral of the Mercosur agreement.

Although the EU has turned to allies like Australia, New Zealand, and Mercosur for trade deals, progress has been incremental and fraught with setbacks. While a deal with Chile on lithium is imminent, negotiations with Mexico and New Zealand are either slow or have lesser impact. High-profile negotiations, such as those with Australia, Canada, and the United States, have seen significant stumbling blocks or collapsed entirely over intricate details and differing negotiation strategies.

In sum, von der Leyen's tenure has seen commendable attempts to diversify Europe's trade and reduce reliance on adversarial nations like China, but the actual delivery on these grand trade ambitions has been complicated and, at times, frustrated by geopolitical realities and internal EU dynamics.

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