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Looking for partners: The EU’s free trade agreements in perspective

July 27, 2012
Since 2006 the European Union has increasingly been looking to sign deep and comprehensive free trade agreements with emerging markets. In the meantime it has also been turning its attention to some industrialised nations. A trade agreement with South Korea has already come into effect. Although the EU is pinning great hopes on India and a number of ASEAN states, it is also keen to conclude similar agreements with Mercosur, Canada, Ukraine and virtually all of the Southern Mediterranean countries. It is even considering Japan and the United States as potential partners. If the European Union's bilateral free trade strategy were fully implemented by the end of this decade, it would give a moderate boost to trade, welfare, growth and employment in the EU and would often provide a much stronger stimulus in the partner countries concerned. This free trade strategy is also highly ambitious in terms of its diplomatic objectives because issues that have so far received insufficient attention – such as trade in services, technical trade barriers and foreign direct investment – are to be better regulated. Whether the EU – currently the world's largest trading bloc – is ultimately successful with this strategy will in many cases be decided by domestic politics in the partner countries. The fundamental question of whether a deep bilateral strategy should perhaps be complemented by a parallel multilateral approach as a matter of considerable urgency will be especially pertinent in transatlantic relations. However, there is also a risk of tensions within the international system. [more]

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