Article 10 - The good geopolitical trade actor? The European Union’s discursive justification of the Anti-Coercion Instrument
Keywords:EU trade policy, Geopolitics, Anti-Coercion Instrument, China, Othering
Traditionally, the EU has presented itself as a normative trade actor, as opposed to other geopolitical trading powers. However, today, it is increasingly recognized that the EU is undergoing a geopolitical turn which also manifests itself in its trade policy. Yet, confusion remains regarding what a ‘geopolitical EU trade policy’ entails and how the EU sells this new perspective in its trade policy. This article contributes to the ongoing debate on this topic by investigating how the European Commission discursively justifies its geopolitical turn in trade. Methodologically, we analyze EU trade discourse with particular attention for othering strategies. Empirically, we study a most-likely case of ‘geopoliticization of trade’, namely the Commission’s initiative to launch an Anti-Coercion Instrument, by analyzing the most important EU documents covering the ACI so far and EU statements on the ACI in relevant media. We find that the Commission distinguishes a ‘defensive’ and ‘offensive’ variant of geopoliticization of trade, whereby the former is conceived as ‘good’ and pursued by the EU, while the latter is seen as ‘bad’ and employed by non-EU trading powers. This diverges from previous EU trade discourses since the 2000s, which portrayed the EU as transcending geopolitics – a normative power pursuing free trade and multilateralism – and other powers as essentially geopolitical – self-interested, protectionist, and regionalist. The EU’s new othering strategy legitimizes the EU’s geopolitical turn in trade, by simultaneously turning away from its previous, ‘naively’ normative trade discourse, while also contrasting the EU’s trade policy to the ‘offensive’ geopolitical trade from ‘bad’ trade actors.
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