Under former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, trade negotiators in Brussels played a role in concluding or signing historic pacts with Canada, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and Mexico. By acting as a unit, EU countries benefit from increased bargaining power when concluding trade agreements with other countries. Over the years, the EU has moved away from producing labour-intensive, low-value products to specialise in higher-quality branded products. With its open economy, trade is crucial for the EU. In order to overcome barriers to trade and create a level playing field for its businesses, the EU is currently negotiating a series of free trade agreements (FTAs). The EU is also a founder and a major player in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It sets out the main principles that will henceforth underpin the Council`s approach to trade negotiations. This has been agreed in principle, with some outstanding technical issues to be resolved in the course of 2019. There is now a repeat of this struggle in the Council of the EU, where France is pushing to move the word “open” behind the bit of strategic autonomy, much to the frustration of other EU capitals. The French push makes diplomats from countries that take a more liberal stance on trade marvel when openness has gone out of fashion. The EU also expressed its openness to working with like-minded partners to improve the functioning of the WTO. In 2019, the European Union and Vietnam agreed on a free trade agreement. The trade agreement covers a range of goods and services.
The agreements provide for significant tariff reductions on food and beverages and the elimination of a number of non-tariff barriers to trade. The agreement also includes commitments in the areas of international labour rights and protection, global environmental agreements and human rights. Since the suspension of negotiations with the US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in 2016, the EU has focused on agreements with the US in certain areas, such as tariffs on industrial goods or conformity assessments. Negotiations on a trade agreement with the founding members of Mercosur were concluded in 2019 and the draft agreement is awaiting ratification. The EU has also started negotiations on free trade agreements with Indonesia, Tunisia, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations with India resumed in 2021, while negotiations with Malaysia and Thailand will resume as soon as conditions are favourable. In line with the CJEU guidelines, the EU is currently developing free trade agreements to ensure that they remain the exclusive competence of the EU. Therefore, areas such as investor-state dispute settlement and portfolio investment need to be negotiated in separate agreements. This clear division of the zones into different agreements makes it possible to ratify and apply free trade agreements quickly and reliably by the European legislator. However, such a separation is not possible if trade agreements are an integral part of political association agreements (e.g.
B with Ukraine, Mexico, Mercosur, etc.). These treaties remain mixed, if only because of the foreign and security policy components (the EU`s negotiations with Mercosur are based on a 20-year-old mandate and do not involve investor-state dispute settlement). Of course, this clear separation does not mean that the ratification of free trade agreements lacks democratic legitimacy. Responsibility for trade policy lies with the EU; since the Treaty of Lisbon, trade agreements must be ratified by the European Parliament. Nevertheless, the parliaments of the Member States should be informed in a timely and comprehensive manner of the negotiations on free trade agreements in order to allow for a well-informed public debate. A transparent negotiation process also includes the publication of the European Commission`s negotiating mandates. “Before TTIP, eu trade policy was perceived by DG TRADE [the Commission`s trade department], a number of officials from EU countries and some lobbyists. The public debate on TTIP has changed that,” de Ville said. “The EU`s trade policy has become politicised and the number of actors involved has exploded: politicians and academics, but also NGOs, consumer organisations and civil society in general.” But to the frustration of free traders, the EU oil company is now heading in a different direction. This increase in trade leads to economic growth and contributes to job creation.
It also offers consumers a wider choice of products at lower prices. Proponents of free trade argue that cooperation with third countries will lead to more positive changes on issues such as workers` rights as economic navel-gazing. They suspect that climate and sustainability concerns are sometimes a front line for protectionism, and they regularly mock Parliament`s trade committee because it is mainly made up of anti-traders. One study found that trade agreements implemented by the EU during the period 1993-2013 “reduced quality-adjusted prices by almost 7%”.  When multilateral negotiations in the WTO on the Doha Development Agenda came to a halt in the first decade of the 21st century, the EU had to find other ways to ensure better access to third country markets. To this end, a new generation of comprehensive free trade agreements has been introduced, going beyond tariff reductions and trade in goods. The first “new generation” free trade agreement of its kind was concluded with South Korea and officially entered into force after its ratification by the European Parliament in December 2015. the multi-party trade agreement between the EU and Peru, Colombia and later Ecuador (since 2017), which has been in force provisionally since 2013, the Association Agreement with the Central American countries, whose trade pillar has been provisionally applied since 2013 (with Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala), the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada, the EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement, which has been in provisional force since September 2017 Singapore and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, in force since the end of 2019, as well as the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement in force since mid-2020, all testify to the new policy.