The central pillar of rules-based and open trade should always be the WTO. This is the first and best way to open markets around the world and establish new rules for trade. However, free trade agreements can be – and have been for years – a useful complement to the multilateral trade order. In the context of the WTO crisis, these agreements are increasingly economically and politically relevant, which is essential for the EU`s foreign trade policy. [2] trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2018/october/tradoc_157468.pdf the European Union and Japan signed the Economic Partnership Agreement, a comprehensive trade agreement including goods, services and investment, the elimination of tariffs, non-tariff barriers and other trade-related issues, such as public procurement, regulatory issues, competition and sustainable development. If no agreement is reached, the UK will face the prospect of trade with the EU according to the basic rules established by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). However, negotiations on free trade agreements have become increasingly controversial in the general public. The transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) negotiations, the EU-US free trade agreement, are an example. Negotiations on the EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement (CETA) have also been controversial.

Months of bitter struggle by political actors have seriously questioned the effectiveness and reliability of European trade policy decision-making and have undermined the EU`s international credibility and effectiveness. Many of the EU`s trade agreements are still being ratified and are only being implemented temporarily. CETA is a mixed agreement. Chapters under the exclusive competence of the Union are currently being applied on an interim basis, with ratification not yet completed in the Member States. On the other hand, the chapter on investment protection is not yet implemented until ratification by members. The EU and Singapore have negotiated a free trade agreement and an investment protection agreement, two separate treaties. The trade agreement came into force at the end of 2019, after the approval of the European Parliament and the Council. The investment protection agreement still needs to be ratified by all Member States according to their own national procedures. In mid-2019, the EU signed a trade agreement and an investment protection agreement with Vietnam. The free trade agreement with Vietnam was approved by the European Parliament in February 2020; Vietnam has already complied with EU requirements for compliance with international labour standards. The free trade agreement is expected to enter into force in the summer of 2020. The VA also contains a protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland providing for a “backstop” that would leave the UK in a “single customs territory” with the EU at the end of the transition period, unless a new agreement on future relations between the UK and the EU has come into force, guaranteeing the absence of border controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

This is partly due to the temporary tariff regime between the UK and the EU, proposed by the government in a technical communication in June 2018. The June proposal proposed that further technical discussions with the EU be needed to find a common solution to ensure that the UK is able to fully implement the EU`s common external tariffs and allow the UK to continue to benefit from existing free trade agreements or new EU free trade agreements signed during this period. The Government`s 7 March update, which detailed 158 international agreements in various areas of action it has set for itself, indicated that agreements were under way in a wide range of areas. These include customs cooperation, fisheries, ecological equivalence, justice and home affairs, and broader political cooperation. Most air services agreements have been concluded, as have nuclear cooperation and safeguard agreements.