European unilateralism as a tool for regulating international trade: a necessary evil in a collapsing multilateral system

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Series Details Number 626
Publication Date March 2022
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The carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), the fight to prevent illegal foreign subsidies, the ban on trade in deforestation products, the due diligence obligation imposed on European companies, the anti-coercion regulation, the reciprocity instrument in public procurement, the foreign investment screening regulation, not to mention the set of exceptional trade measures implemented in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine; there is a long list of decisions adopted and under discussion that mark the European Union's determination to decide alone on the regulation of trade between itself and the rest of the world.

This European "neo-unilateralism" is certainly based on a logic that is not entirely new - the defence of the Union's interests through trade policy or trade regulation instruments - but it also presents singular features and reflects political choices that prevail, more than in the past, over strict mercantile considerations. It is a vehicle for promoting the European Union's strategic autonomy in a multilateral system that is in the process of collapsing and an international order that has been hit by crises.

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