The European Union is one of the most outward-oriented economies in the world. It is also the world’s largest single market area. Free trade among its members was one of the EU's founding principles, and it is committed to opening up world trade as well.
From 1999 to 2010, EU foreign trade doubled and now accounts for over 30% of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP). The EU is responsible for the trade policy of the member countries and negotiates agreements for them. Speaking as one voice, the EU carries more weight in international trade negotiations than each individual member would.
The EU actively engages with countries or regional groupings to negotiate trade agreements. These agreements grant mutually-beneficial access to the markets of both the EU and the countries concerned. EU companies can grow their business, and can also more easily import the raw materials they use to make their products.
Each agreement is unique and can include tariff reductions, rules on matters such as intellectual property or sustainable development, or clauses on human rights. The EU also gets input from the public, businesses, and non-government bodies when negotiating trade agreements or rules.
The EU supports and defends EU industry and business by working to remove trade barriers so that European exporters gain fair conditions and access to other markets. At the same time, the EU supports foreign companies with practical information on how to access the EU market.
The EU also works with the World Trade Organization (WTO) to help set global trade rules and remove obstacles to trade between WTO members.