Okano-Heijmans: Trade Diplomacy in EU–Asia Relations

From the Executive Summary:

The aim of this Clingendael Report is to provide insight into the state of affairs of the European Union’s trade diplomacy, with a particular focus on East Asia and on the consequences of trade talks among countries in the Asia–Pacific region for the EU and for European governments. Competitive multilateralism in Asia–Pacific trade diplomacy is assessed for its impact on the geostrategic position of the EU and its member states, followed by an analysis of the effectiveness of EU trade diplomacy in Asia. The focus is not so much on the economic benefits that trade agreements may provide, but rather on the role that politics, security, stability and norm-setting take in the rationale behind negotiations. Surprisingly few attempts have been made so far to analyse this complex subject comprehensively from a European perspective.

The EU´s trade diplomacy stands out for its formal, rather legalistic approach to linking economics and politics. This strategy is founded on the so-called ‘2009 Common Approach’, which holds that a predefined set of political clauses must be included in political agreements with third countries, while also essentially reducing free-trade agreements to a subset of such political agreements. This political straitjacket limits the EU’s ability to engage in a more flexible, strategic approach that is needed in the context of Asian competitive multilateralism.


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