Article 21 of the Treaty of Lisbon mandates the European Union (EU) to foster its values (democracy, the rule of law, social rights, gender equality, etc.) in its external relations. The core concern of the EU’s multi-faceted relations with Asia is economic relations with rising markets. EU relations with the region have focused on the facilitation of trade and investment through the negotiation of free trade agreements (FTAs) with a number of Asian partners. EU FTAs are accompanied by a Political Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which links core EU values to trade through the ‘standard clause’, whereby under certain circumstances, human rights’ abuses can trigger a suspension of trade preferences. Using a qualitative case study methodology, and drawing on policy documents and interviews, this paper addresses the question of whether, and how, the EU can balance its internal legal obligations with its economic interests and its partners’ demands. The article provides a legal background of the EU’s obligations in terms of international value promotion. It then reviews EU trade policy strategies and reveals an absence of a concerted approach to the inclusion of values. The article investigates the sources of resistance to EU attempts at linking its trade policy with broader values including social rights with Asian partners. The analysis reveals that Asian resistance is centred on the legalistic approach of the EU rather than the values and suggests that a more effective norm export might be achieved through other means. The article concludes that the EU’s failure to push forward social issues in FTAs ultimately casts serious doubts about the EU’s international ‘actorness’ in the area of social rights.