The election of Donald Trump and the growing assertiveness of China have raised a double challenge to the EU’s Common Commercial Policy (CCP). Since the WTO failed to deliver on strengthening a global rules-based system through the Doha round, the EU and the US became the main promoters of further trade liberalisation outside the WTO framework. Thus, when the new US administration turned its back on free trade in 2017, not only did the EU lose its main ally; it also had to face the potential threat of a meltdown of the multilateral trade order. Whereas China has been eager to fill the vacuum left by the US and to actively shape global trade rules, its understanding of ‘free and fair trade’ significantly differs from that of the EU.
This paper outlines how the EU’s trade policy has adapted to the different challenges that have arisen during the last decade, starting with the 2006 Global Strategy and ending with the 2018 reform of the EU’s trade defence instruments. We assess the impacts of these changes both for the EU’s position as the world’s biggest trading block, as well as for the multilateral trading system based upon the WTO.