Free trade and trade barriers

1. Free trade: What is free trade? What is the European procedure? What is the role of Flanders and the Department in this context?

2. Trade barriers: The Trade Barriers Contact Point and how we can remove trade barriers

3. Information sessions and actions


1. Free trade

Since the Lisbon Treaty “trade” has been an exclusive power of the European Union. This means that the European Commission negotiates free trade agreements for all 28 EU Member States. The European Commission may propose negotiations, but can only really start them after having received a mandate from the Council of the European Union. The European Parliament as well plays an increasingly active role in terms of free trade. It adopts resolutions and must also give its approval once the agreement is submitted for ratification.

Within the Council of the European Union a coordinated Belgian position is presented. This position is reached through consultation with the Regions and Communities at the DGE meetings of the FPS Foreign Affairs. The Special Act on Institutional Reform of 8 August 1980 states that multilateral trade belongs to the competence of the federal government.  This means that any other trade powers (plurilateral and bilateral) belong to the Regions’ competence. In practice, Belgium can therefore only take positions that are endorsed by the Regions. Within this framework Flanders participates in the free trade debates and actually impacts on these negotiations and their outcome. Flanders promotes its offensive interests and defends its defensive interests both within the Belgian framework and in direct contacts with European and international partners.

The International Enterprise Unit holds the Secretariat of the EU Trade Working Group which is headed by the Minister-President’s office. Within this Flemish working group, which brings together all the Ministers’ offices, communities and departments of the Flemish public administration, negotiations are monitored and political positions are taken.  After that, the Flanders Department of Foreign Affairs takes part in the Belgian coordination meetings in keeping with the acquired mandates, and impacts on the relevant Belgian position. These positions are further publicised and enforced through direct and indirect contacts and through the General Representation of the Government of Flanders.

A lot of negotiations are currently ongoing and several new negotiations are on the agenda. Below a non-exhaustive list of negotiations is given:

1. Multilateral (i.e. within the World Trade Organisation, including all WTO members): Doha Development Agenda (DDA); ongoing since 2001.
2. Plurilateral (i.e. within the World Trade Organisation, with a substantial number of WTO members): Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA), Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).
3. Bilateral:

  • Concluded, but not yet or almost effective: EU-Singapore, EU-Vietnam, Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada, EU-Peru-Colombia-Ecuador, EPAs with EAC, SADC and ECOWAS, …
  • Under negotiation: EU-China Investment Agreement, EU-Myanmar Investment Protection Agreement, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the US, EU-Japan, EU-Mercosur, EU-India, etc.
  • Expected to start before the end of the 2014-2019 term of office: EU-Mexico, EU-Chile, EU-Australia, EU-New Zealand, EU-Philippines, EU-Indonesia, …


2. Trade Barriers

In 2006, the Trade Barriers Contact Point was established. This marked the beginning of the streamlining and structuring of the removal of trade barriers experienced by Flemish businesses in extra-Community markets. Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) is the contact point for businesses. The Trade Barriers Contact Point can be contacted through their website.

This Contact Point works in two ways. If there are no ongoing free trade negotiations, the complaints are treated individually and, after processing by FIT, the Department uses its channels to try and find a political solution for the stated problem. However, when free trade negotiations are ongoing, the Contact Point offers a good insight into the problems experienced by businesses. In this case the Department uses these negotiations as an excellent opportunity for finding a solution in the context of these negotiations.

Are you a Flemish company that is confronted with a trade barrier? Report it to the Trade Barriers Contact Point


3. Information sessions and actions

The Department, Flanders Investment & Trade and vleva (Liaison Agency Flanders-Europe) frequently organise information sessions and roadshows.

  • For the moment no sessions are planned.

The reports of the most important information sessions are also kept.

  • Information meeting on EU-US Free Trade Agreement - 16 March 2016 - Flanders Department of Foreign Affairs and vleva
  • Information meeting on EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement - 28 September 2016 - Flanders Department of Foreign Affairs and vleva


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