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An ambitious, open and rules-based trade policy

Growing tensions in trade relations between the superpowers, coupled with protectionism, meaning the protection of domestic production from foreign competition, also represent a challenge to the European economy. In this situation, the EU must defend the multilateral trading system and resist new trade barriers.

Pursuing an ambitious, open and rules-based trade policy is the best way to enhance the EU’s competitiveness and its status as an attractive trading partner. To support economic growth and employment in Europe, the EU needs to open new markets and strengthen its common rules.

Finland’s Presidency aims to   

  • strengthen the multilateral trading system
  • modernise the World Trade Organization (WTO) and uphold its binding dispute settlement system
  • continue negotiations on ambitious and balanced trade agreements with key partners
  • reinforce the binding nature of sustainable development goals in EU trade agreements
  • ensure the swift entry into force and effective implementation of negotiated agreements
  • continue discussions on strengthening the EU’s trade relations with the United States
  • promote balanced trade and investment relations with China.

General background: The EU promotes open and fair global trade  

The EU is the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods and services. EU trade with the rest of the world has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and now accounts for a third of the EU’s GDP. International trade brings citizens substantial benefits in terms of prosperity and wellbeing.


The EU has a common commercial policy, defined jointly by the European Commission, the member states as represented by the Council, and the European Parliament. Under the common commercial policy, the Commission negotiates trade agreements on behalf of the EU and on the basis of a negotiating mandate granted by the member states. Trade agreements negotiated by the Commission are only adopted once they have been approved by the Council and the European Parliament.

Three milestones in the history of the EU’s common commercial policy:

  1. The goal of having a common commercial policy was first expressed in the 1957 Treaty of Rome (the treaty establishing the European Economic Community, the EU’s forerunner).
  2. The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force in December 2009, involved the European Parliament more closely in defining the common commercial policy. The Treaty provides for this policy to be conducted in the context of the principles and objectives of the EU’s external action.
  3. The EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement entered into force on 1 February 2019. The agreement creates a trade zone of 600 million people, and covers nearly a third of global GDP and about 40% of global trade.

Read more about EU trade policy 

EU2019FI backgrounder: An ambitious, open and rules-based trade policy

Council of the EU: EU trade policy

European Commission: EU trade negotiations and agreements