Digital trade in EU trade agreements

Do you want to trade and do business digitally? Learn here about digital trade provisions in EU trade agreements and receive information for companies interested in trading digitally.

Did you know that digital trade is an increasingly prominent topic within the EU’s trade agreements, and that recent EU FTAs address a widening range of digital trade issues?

  • the first EU trade agreement to include an e-commerce chapter was the EU–CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which was signed in 2008
  • since then, the EU has covered the issue consistently as an important element of its trade policy and of its negotiations with third parties
  • in the last few years, the EU has developed an ambitious Digital Trade Title that it proposes in all FTA negotiations
  • these disciplines aim to ensure predictability and legal certainty for business as well as a secure online environment for consumers - they also aim at removing unjustified barriers to digital trade


Core elements of the EU approach to digital trade include

  • no customs duties on electronic transmissions
  • data flows and the prohibition of data localisation requirements
  • consumer protection and protection against unsolicited direct marketing communications
  • provisions regarding the conclusion of contracts by electronic means and e-signatures
  • protection of software source code
  • cooperation and regulatory dialogue

In its bilateral trade agreements, the EU has traditionally included references to regulatory dialogue. They can contribute to facilitating the development of electronic commerce, especially in the benefit of small and medium-sized enterprises.

In the following section, you will find an overview of other important e-commerce provisions included in EU bilateral trade agreements

  • remove unjustified barriers to e-commerce, including by banning customs duties, charges and fees on electronic transmissions - this does not forbid the imposition of internal charges, such as internal taxes
  • the EU trade agreements include the principle of no prior authorisation, which bans authorisation procedures that specifically target online services for protectionist reasons
  • cover electronic authentication methods and electronic signatures, which are necessary for the validation of online transactions and thus constitute a key enabling factor for digital trade
  • establish dialogue on regulatory issues e.g. the recognition of electronic signatures - in the recent EU-Singapore agreement, both sides are also examining a potential future mutual recognition agreement on electronic signatures
  • several online consumer protection measures, including against spam. EU agreements consistently include provisions aimed at maintaining a regulatory dialogue on the treatment of such unsolicited communications
  • cover the areas of cooperation and dispute settlement - they place an emphasis on regulatory dialogue in key policy areas, including, for example, the intermediary liability of service suppliers with respect to electronic transmissions and the storage of information

Facilitating capacity building

  • the EU–CARIFORUM EPA includes commitments to provide support for technical assistance, training, and capacity building for different areas that can also build capacity in trading digitally
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