EU Trade Policy


EU trade policy has traditionally focused on the negotiation and implementation of agreements that the EU, on behalf of its Member States, signs with other states on matters linked to tariffs, market access and other policy issues like public procurement, competition, including subsidies, or sanitary and phytosanitary barriers (SPS).

The EU trade deals are negotiated at different levels: multilateral (e.g WTO), plurilateral (e.g. WTO Government Procurement Agreement), bi-regional (e.g. EU trade agreements with Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), as well as bilateral (e.g. EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Singapore). The EU counts with autonomous trade instruments, that is, those trade-relevant policies that the EU takes without involving negotiation with its trade partners (e.g. EU Generalised Systems of Preferences).

The European Commission issued a policy document in 2009, recognising the Fair Trade movement’s definition of, and criteria for, Fair Trade, and making a distinction between Fair Trade and other trade-related sustainability schemes.

Since the ‘Trade For All’ strategy of 2015, the EU is attempting to have a more responsible trade policy based on EU values. This strategy document announced a proactive agenda to promote the responsible management of supply chains.

The ‘Trade For All’ strategy also includes for the first time a section on fair and ethical trade schemes (section 4.2.4), in which the European Commission commits to:

  • Use the existing structure for implementation of FTAs to promote fair trade and other sustainability assurance schemes, like the EU organic scheme
  • Address fair and ethical trade more systematically in the upcoming review of the EU ‘Aid for Trade’ strategy and report on Fair Trade related projects as part of its annual ‘Aid for Trade’ report
  • Promote through the EU Delegations and in cooperation with the High Representatives, fair and ethical trade schemes to small producers in third countries, building on existing best practice initiatives
  • Step up support to work in international fora, such as the International Trade Centre, to gather market data in relation to fair and ethical trade markets, which could then serve as a basis to follow the evolution of the markets
  • Develop awareness-raising activities in the EU, in particular working with Local Authorities in the EU via the ‘EU City for Fair and Ethical Trade’ Award


The FTAO welcomes the attention paid to fair and ethical trade schemes and to responsible management of supply chains in the ‘Trade for All’ strategy. We believe it is a step in the right direction. However, we regret that the sustainability aspects of trade policy are often voluntary and that the ‘trade and sustainable development chapter of EU trade agreements lack the teeth that other parts of the trade agreements have. FTAO supports the proposal of an official complaint mechanism to allow civil society to prompt investigations on the lack of compliance of sustainability and human rights commitments by the parties of the EU trade agreements.

Regarding fair and ethical trade schemes, the FTAO has published, in March 2019 a publication with recommendations to the EU on how to upscale Fair Trade practices (from local to EU level).

On responsible management of supply chains, it is essential that the European Commission puts forward as soon as possible a legislative proposal to ensure that all companies placing products on the EU market carry out a Human Rights Due Diligence process. That is, companies should continually do a risk assessment to find out about possible Human Rights violations in their supply chains (that is, including sub-contractors and their suppliers) and take serious action to minimise this risk. This should include making sure their own procurement practices (including the price they pay) enable suppliers to respect Human Rights and enable small farmers and workers to earn a living income.

Find out more about the FTAO’s proposal on how to upscale Fair Trade in the EU here.


Trade: Time for a new vision: The Alternative Trade Mandate (FTAO & Other CSOs)

Setting course for sustainable trade (Friends of the Earth Europe)

You can find out how our work on EU policies links to our key topics here.