Interviewed by Alison Oates
Emmanuelle Bautista is a Counsellor at the French Permanent Representation to the European Union. She has worked for both the French Embassy in Berlin and the French Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organisation in trade policy and dispute settlement. We discussed how diplomacy has drastically changed over recent years, the future of international trade and the underrepresentation of women in the media during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You have held a number of positions in international trade, in particular for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the European Union (EU). What first attracted you to international trade and investment policy and how have your roles changed over the years?
I began to work on Trade and Investment Policy when I was posted to the Economic Unit of the French Embassy in Berlin. It was an exciting time because trade policy was at the heart of civil debate in Germany, namely because of negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US. At the same time, increasing discussions between France and Germany centered on two important issues; reciprocity of public procurement and reform of the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS). I began to work on trade policy with these subjects until I moved to Geneva to work for the French Permanent Mission to the WTO.
Here, I was in charge of market access and legal issues which were both technical and very challenging. It was also very interesting to see how an international organization like the WTO (over 160 member states) actually functions. Now, I work in Brussels for France’s Permanent Representation to the EU which has enabled me to deepen my expertise on trade and investment policy.
As trade policy is an exclusive competence of the EU we have a huge responsibility defending and promoting the interests of our country. I have been very lucky that in each of my previous roles I have taken on more responsibilities and have deepened my technical skills and expertise, which definitely helps me in my current role at the EU level.
With trade policy, we have a huge responsibility
defending and promoting the interests of our country.
How have economic and commercial diplomacy changed or evolved over the last 10 years, and what key trends have emerged during this period?
Not only have economic and commercial diplomacy changed over the last 10 years but diplomacy as a whole has changed. We have a lot of crises all over the world and are always dealing with emergencies; having to react quickly, be flexible and to know everything in advance. We also have new means of communication with social media which I think has a huge impact on our work. The nature of diplomacy traditionally requires time to reflect and analyse but today we have to react quickly which is challenging for us.
For trade policy, there have also been profound changes. It has become more technical and complex and today covers areas such as non-tariff barriers, sustainability, consumer protection, labour rules and technological development. Trade policy is no longer a single area of diplomacy but rather an umbrella in relation with economic policy, financial policy, environmental policy and much more. There is also a stronger pressure and demand from the civil society on trade policy to be accountable.
Big players in international trade have also evolved, and new players have emerged. China joined the WTO 2001 and is now one of the biggest players but is also, as the European Commission stated, a “systemic rival” alongside the US who have reassessed multilateralism and their commitment to the WTO since the election of Donald Trump. Here for the EU, it has been very challenging finding a position in the middle.
I would also like to mention the changing role of developing countries who are now more engaged in negotiations for trade agreements within the WTO but still need technical assistance and capacity building in their development. We need to find a balance between this evolution but also the fact that they still need support.
Diplomacy traditionally requires time
to reflect but today, we have to react quickly.
With the COVID-19 pandemic already bringing about profound change to the world as we know it, how should international organisations respond? What role should they play in a post-pandemic world?
First of all, it is important to remember that international organisations such as the WTO are member-driven. This means that change will depend on the members proposing new initiatives.
The WTO has already launched new ideas by publishing reports on the trade of medical products and the future impact on trade as a whole. It has also asked all members to notify any export restrictions on trade related to COVID-19. This is important because transparency is one of the core principles of the WTO and will become more important as the crisis continues.
For the future, the WTO will need to go further in its cooperation with other international organisations (World Health Organisation, International Monetary Fund) and will also have to work on a new plurilateral agreement on medical products. The WTO will have to tackle other issues like digitalization, sustainability, supply chain, SME, developing countries and gender. But most of all, and this is not only a question for the WTO, a new definition of trade policy is needed.
You have worked extensively in dispute settlement for both the WTO and the EU. What roles can women play in resolving conflict and dispute?
Generally, in conflict and dispute, women have a better capacity to listen and let people speak without interruption or judgement. This, for me, is fundamental and is linked to our sense of empathy. Women have a capacity to search and look for a solution which is why we are so good at mediation. Many of my colleagues in investment policy and dispute settlement are men and I feel that many women are not comfortable studying or working in these fields because of this. As a woman you have to fight harder and longer than men, especially when it comes to finding a balance with your family life. The problem is that even though many women work in male-dominated industries, we do not see them enough.
You are very active on social media and seem committed to opening a dialogue about women in leadership. What, in your opinion, can we do to push the dialogue further and bring real change for women in leadership positions?
We not only need more visibility for women in leadership but for women in general. Currently, with this crisis, we are once again seeing an underrepresentation of women in the media. In newspapers, on TV, headlines are focused on the achievements of men during this pandemic. I am quite shocked because it feels like we don’t exist; that there are no women working during the pandemic or thinking about the future. There was one newspaper headline in France which said “Thank you to them” using the male pronoun for “them” (Merci à eux) even though the photo only included women! Visibility is very important because without it how can young girls imagine working in a field where we do not see any other women?
You are an active participant of our 5th talent pool programme. What do you like most about the programme?
I like a lot of things about this programme! It was an opportunity to meet so many different women and exchange with them with openness, empathy and goodwill. This gives me a lot of inspiration, ideas and fresh air; both professionally and personally. I particularly enjoyed the speed dating session at our WIL event in Barcelona, where one woman told us about her move to the US where she decided to focus her career only on what she is good at and what she loves doing. It was completely new and refreshing to hear that focusing on soft skills could translate so well into a career!
Meeting so many different women
gives me inspiration, ideas and fresh air!
Proust question: What talent would you most like to have and why?
I wish I could stop asking myself so many questions; to be able to let go and to see what happens. Doubt can sometimes be a good motivator but overthinking too much can be dangerous!