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EU Trade Policy

International trade and investment matter to the EU. Trade is an engine for global growth as it contributes to long-term jobs in the EU and around the world, and has a real impact on the day-to-day lives of people and businesses in Europe and in its partner countries.


EU position in world trade

The EU is in prime position when it comes to global trade. The openness of our trade regime has meant that the EU is the biggest player on the global trading scene, accounting for 14.8 % of global trade in goods and 22.2 % of global trade in services in 2015, and remains a good region to do business with. Furthermore the EU remains the world’s largest economy with over 20% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 500 million inhabitants, making it the world’s most lucrative consumer market. The EU is also the world’s second-largest investor.


Objectives of EU trade policy

Create a global system for fair and open trade

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has helped shape a system of global trade rules that keeps the global economy open for trade as well as reflects and respect the needs and concerns of developing countries. The network of agreements and obligations overseen by the WTO helps ensure that trade is open, predictable and fair. EU trade policy works to maintain the global trading system and to ensure it adapts to a fast-changing world.

Open up markets with key partner countries

We seek to create growth and jobs for Europeans by increasing their opportunities to trade with the world. One way of opening markets is to negotiate better access and conditions for trade and investment through free trade agreements. The EU has concluded a number of Free Trade Agreements and is continuing negotiations with others, such as the United States (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and Japan.

In addition, the EU is signatory to or is currently negotiating a number of plurilateral agreements, such as the WTO Government Procurement Agreement and the Trade in Services Agreement.

Make sure others play by the rules

EU trade policy aims to open new markets for European exporters, workers and investors through lifting barriers to the markets of our trading partners. We work closely with countries outside Europe to remove persistent problems for exporters, increase the opportunities for EU businesses to get equal access to procurement markets outside the EU, reduce counterfeiting and piracy of European goods and open up new opportunities for European investment.

Because international trade rules are designed to ensure that trade is fair, it is vital that they are respected. Therefore, dispute settlement mechanisms are set up in most trade agreements to ensure the agreements can be enforced and that disputes can be settled.

Ensure trade is a force for sustainable development

We are committed to actively helping people around the world trade their way out of poverty. Europe has opened its markets to all imports from the world's poorest countries, and works actively to help developing countries build the capacity to take advantage of trade.

We also use our trade policy to reinforce other important international goals: supporting the fight to protect our environment and reverse global warming; striving to improve working conditions for workers in developing countries; and ensuring the highest standards of health and safety for the products we buy and sell.


How is EU trade policy made?

Trade policy is an exclusive power of the EU – so only the EU, and not individual member states, can legislate on trade matters and conclude international trade agreements. The scope of EU's exclusive powers covers not just trade in goods, but also services, commercial aspects of intellectual property and foreign direct investment. The EU has exclusive powers in some other areas which may also be relevant for trade policy, such as transport, capital movements, etc.

The European Parliament decides jointly with the Council on the framework of EU trade policy – through the ordinary legislative procedure. While the Commission maintains the right of initiative, for its proposals to be formally adopted, agreement has to be reached between the co-legislators. International agreements are adopted by the Council, after the Parliament has given its consent.


Useful links

European Commission, DG Trade

EU Trade and Investment 2015



Updated 2016.09.12