EU Values in International Trade

The EU’s Common Commercial Policy (which covers EU trade and investment law and policy) is not only a tool to protect Europe’s commercial and strategic interests. It is also an important and powerful foreign policy tool. Under Article 21 TEU, the EU’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles that lay at its core, such as democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law. Article 21 also aspires to safeguard a number of objectives and interests that are not economic in nature (i.e. to preserve peace, strengthen international security, and preserve the environment). As Article 207 TFEU clearly instructs, the EU’s trade policy must be conducted in the context of those principles and objectives.
The combination of the EU’s trade policy with non-trade objectives creates tensions at multiple levels.

  • First, the EU’s institutions and agencies may differ in terms of the weight to be given to Europe’s commercial interests against non-trade values.
  • Second, there is also an inevitable discordance among EU member states in terms of how precisely they incorporate non-trade values in implementing the EU’s trade policies and law.
  • Third, there are also tensions among various non-trade objectives. For instance, restrictions on international trade on the basis of human rights may not contribute to the effective achievement of sustainable development.
  • Finally, the invocation of non-trade values creates a tension with non-EU third states which may not situate trade law and policies as an effective vehicle to achieve non-trade values. At the same time, the dissonance between the EU’s policies and those of other trade partners creates an opportunity for EU institutions to be an active norm-setting actor at the international level.

The interpretation of specific values and objectives is context dependent, varying according the institution and actors involved in the formulation and implementation of the EU’s trade and investment policy. This is determinative of the nature of the abovementioned multilevel tensions. The multi-level tensions result in uncertainties in the EU’s value-based international trade and investment policies, which undermine the competitiveness of the EU and its normative presence at the global level in the long run.

 
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