Common commercial policy

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
European Union flag

Common commercial policy is a policy area of ​​the European Union that encompasses all measures to regulate and control foreign trade with third countries . It must be strictly distinguished from the European internal market , which affects the trade relations of the member states with one another, but also from the foreign trade policy of the member states, even if their competences have been considerably curtailed by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The common commercial policy forms part of the foreign policy (“external action”) of the European Union. Close ties exist with the other areas of the Union's external action, in particular the common foreign and security policy and development policy .

Legal bases

The trade policy is regulated in Chapter 5, Title 2 of the AEU Treaty ( Art. 206 and Art. 207 ) as well as in the related secondary law. The common commercial policy also included before the Treaty of Lisbon to supranational oriented first pillar of the European Union and not to intergovernmental oriented common foreign and security policy . In contrast to the common foreign and security policy, majority decisions are the rule.

According to Article 206 of the TFEU, the aim of trade policy is the harmonious development of world trade , the gradual elimination of restrictions in international trade and the dismantling of customs barriers. According to Art. 3 Para. 1 lit. e FEU Treaty, the common commercial policy falls under the exclusive competence of the European Union.

Within the European Union, the ordinary legislative procedure is to be used for commercial policy in accordance with Art. 207 (2) TFEU . For the important in the common commercial policy of the international agreements apply to 207 Art. Para. 3 TFEU addition to the general provisions on the negotiation and conclusion of international agreements ( Art 218th negotiations on behalf of: TFEU) specific provisions Union leads the European Commission , represented by its own Commissioner for Trade , as soon as the Council of the European Union has given it a mandate to do so. This is supported and controlled by a special committee and is bound by the instructions of the Council. Since the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament has had extensive co-determination powers in both autonomous and contractual trade policy. The responsible committee of the European Parliament is the Committee on International Trade .

Trade policy instruments

The European Union initially has unilateral ( autonomous ) measures at its disposal as control elements for trade with third countries . These can affect both the import and the export of goods. Both tariff ( e.g. customs duties ) and non-tariff measures (e.g. quantitative restrictions, obligation to submit certain documents, compliance with technical and other standards) come into consideration. In contrast to the autonomous measures, there are contractual regulations that can be designed both bilaterally and multilaterally.

The European Union is basically sovereign in terms of the autonomous and contractual regulation of imports from and exports to third countries. However, it has to observe its primary legal self-commitment to free trade according to Art. 206 TFEU as well as contractual obligations, especially in the context of the WTO .

Autonomous import regime

The focus of the import regime lies in the limitation and control of undesired imports, less in the promotion of desirable ones. Central instruments are customs duties, levies and import quotas .


The central tariff instrument is the import duty , which is levied according to the Common Customs Tariff according to Art. 28 TFEU . Its amount is set and adjusted autonomously for the individual economic goods in accordance with Art. 31 TFEU ​​by the Council on a proposal from the Commission . For certain raw materials and semi-finished products that are not available in the European Union, the Common Customs Tariff can be temporarily suspended by allowing duty-free import quotas.

Another exception to the Common Customs Tariff is the general system of preferences , which also pursues development policy objectives . This grants certain developing countries listed in Annex I to Regulation 2501/01 tariff concessions based on the product:

  • so-called non-sensitive goods (= goods whose import does not pose a threat to producers within the Community): complete exemption from customs duties
  • Agricultural and industrial goods from certain “drug countries” in South and Central America and Pakistan: complete duty-free
  • Textiles: Customs cut by 20 percent
  • sensitive goods: tariff reduction by 3.5 percent; if the exporting country observes certain employee rights and environmental standards: 8.5 percent.
An "LDC": Market in Uganda

The poorest developing countries ( Least Developed Countries - LDCs) are granted full duty exemption on all export goods except arms. All of the aforementioned benefits can be suspended, for example in response to unfair trading practices by the exporting country, disregard for human rights or inadequate controls on drug exports.

The four Lomé agreements (1975-2000) with the ACP states (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific), which are strongly oriented towards development policy, also provided for a complete - unilateral - exemption from customs duties . The successor, the Cotonou Agreement (2000), provides more flexible mechanisms in this respect (FLEX system as opposed to the old STABEX model). The import duties of the EC will only be reduced and even this only in return for stronger independent efforts of the ACP states.

Korean container freighter in the port of Hamburg

On the other hand, the customs duties can be increased as part of commercial protective measures: For example, at the request of a company or a member state, the Council can set anti-dumping duties under Regulation 384/96 if foreign companies bring their goods to the European market at a price lower than the price customary in the country of origin Union export (dumping) and this threatens to damage producers based in the European Union. The tariffs must not exceed the dumping margin and must be applied without discrimination to all imports of the goods in question. Retroactive effect is not permitted. Regulation 2026/97 provides a comparable set of instruments for subsidies from the exporting country . According to Regulation 3286/94 (“Trade Barrier Regulation”), customs duties can also be raised in response to unfair trading practices and, in particular, a violation of WTO regulations by a third country.


The levies used in the area of ​​external protection under the common agricultural policy have a similar effect to customs duties . On agricultural products imported from third countries, taxes are levied in the amount of the difference between the import price and the usually higher price usual in the European Union in order to eliminate the competitive advantage of the imported products. In this respect, levies represent the counterpart to the refunds of the export regime and are just as much under pressure from the WTO as they are.

Import quotas

The most important non-tariff control means are quantitative import restrictions. According to Article 1 (2) of Regulation 3285/94, these are generally not provided for. To the extent that imports are likely to cause considerable damage to producers based in the European Union, the Commission can, under Article 16 of the Regulation, subject imports to a permit requirement and set import quotas for this purpose . Regulation 3285/94 (“Trade Barrier Regulation”), which aims to combat unfair trade practices by third countries, also provides for the establishment of import quotas as an instrument.

To run

The export regime consists of both limiting and controlling undesired exports as well as promoting desired exports.

Export restrictions

According to Art. 1 of Regulation (EU) No. 2015/479 (formerly EC No. 1061/2009), exports from the territory of the European Union are generally not subject to any quantitative restrictions. According to Articles 5 to 8 of the regulation, the Commission, the Council and the Member States can restrict the export of essential goods in the event of a crisis.

There are also restrictions on the export of dual-use goods , which can be used both civilly and militarily. This also includes data processing programs and technology that are also used in z. B. electronic form. According to Regulation 428/2009, the export of certain dual-use goods, namely those listed in an attachment, is always subject to authorization. The export of the other dual-use goods is only subject to authorization if the exporter has been notified by the competent authority of the threat of ABC use or, if the destination country is subject to a UN , OSCE or EU embargo , of general military use . Goods not listed in the annex, if they have a dual purpose, can also fall under the approval requirements under the catch-all clause .

The third major exception to the general freedom to export concerns cultural goods which, according to Regulation (EC) No. 116/2009, may only be exported with the approval of the respective member state.

Export promotion

Conversely, exports from the territory of the European Union are even expressly promoted to a certain extent. While export subsidies are paid for agricultural goods in the form of export refunds (replacement of the difference between the Community price of the product and the usually lower world market price), the WTO regulations usually conflict with other products. However, export credits (in Germany: Hermes guarantees ) and general promotional measures such as “trade promotion” at trade fairs or the like remain possible .

Contractual trade policy

A distinction must be made between pure trade agreements and so-called cooperation agreements. While the former are limited to the agreement of tariffs, volume quotas and other tariff and non-tariff trade restrictions and benefits, the cooperation agreements also include aspects of economic , transport , research or development cooperation. As far as this is the case, the European Union requires its own legal basis outside of Art. 207 TFEU ​​to conclude the contract . In its AETR case law , the European Court of Justice derived this from the existence of a corresponding internal legislative competence of the European Union. Finally, association agreements under Art. 217 TFEU create a particularly strong mutual bond .

In addition to the bilateral agreement, there are also multilateral agreements that involve a large number of actors, the best known of which is the WTO regulations. While some agreements are concluded exclusively by the European Union, with others the member states themselves act as contractual partners. This is particularly the case if the subjects regulated in the agreement are wholly or partly the responsibility of the member states. The member states have also signed and ratified the WTO agreements because of their remaining trade policy powers in the area of ​​trade in services and intellectual property .

The most important commercial contracts of the European Union (or the European Communities) include:

  • Multilateral agreements under the WTO (1994), in particular
    • Framework Convention of April 15, 1994
    • General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade ( GATT 1994 ; concerns trade in goods)
    • Agreement on Trade in Services ( GATS )
    • Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property ( TRIPS )
    • Agreement on the Settlement of Disputes (DSU)
The WTO regulations include around 150 member states and thus de facto represent a universal world trade regime.

It is noteworthy that there are no comprehensive trade agreements in place with the most important players in the world economy, namely the USA , the PR China , Japan and Australia . At most, particular individual aspects are regulated, while the rest of the trade is measured solely against the WTO regulations. The EU has been negotiating the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada since 2009, also known as CETA for short. It is also considered a test case for the US-American-European Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement  (TTIP / TAFTA), which has been negotiated since 2013, and is controversial in sections, especially with regard to investment protection , which is intended to enable companies to claim damages from states in the event of a changed legal situation ( investor state dispute settlement ). These rules would restrict the democratic, rule of law control over trade and especially international corporations as a whole.

A special position on the fringes of contractual trade policy is taken by the trade-inhibiting gray area trade policy, such as Voluntary Export Restraint Agreements (VERA), Orderly Marketing Arrangement (OMA), Gentlemen's Agreements, Administrative Guidance, etc. Ä. Be referred to. In them, states or companies undertake “voluntarily” with varying degrees of legally binding force to adhere to certain commercial practices or to self-restraint. Often, of course, such commitments are forced by the European Union's latent threat to take stronger protective measures. In 1993–2000, Japan, for example, undertook to limit its automobile exports to the European Union as part of such a commitment.

The European Union is a member of the International Cocoa Organization .


The embargo according to Art. 215 TFEU (officially "restrictive measures") has a special role in the common commercial policy . Here, imports and exports with certain third countries are not restricted for reasons of trade policy, but in order to enforce the objectives of the common foreign and security policy. Examples are the arms embargo against China following the Tian'anmen massacre in 1989 as well as measures against Burma for human rights violations (2000) or Afghanistan for favoring Al-Qaida (2002). As in the common foreign and security policy, the Council decides on these matters without referring to the European Parliament .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ullrich Karpenstein and Matthias Kottmann: EU foreign trade and customs law . In: Krenzler / Herrmann / Niestedt (eds.): Beck comment . 2018.