The European Commission sought backing from member states on Wednesday to open talks early next year with ASEAN, India and South Korea on hammering out free-trade agreements.
"The three key partners identified for new agreements combine large markets, rapid growth and high levels of protection against EU export interests," the commission said in a statement.
It said that the agreements should be far reaching but in particular target services and investment, two areas that have fallen by the wayside in WTO free-trade negotiations.
With the 2001 launch of the current WTO free-trade talks in Doha, the EU chose to focus on a multilateral approach to trade at the expense of efforts to strike bilateral deals.
But since the WTO talks ground to a halt in July over EU and US intransigence on cutting agriculture subsidies, Brussels has tried to give a new push to bilateral deals, a strategy already being pursued by the United States and Japan.
However, the commission said that talks with ASEAN, India and South Korea would "complement the European Union's strong commitment to the WTO multilateral trading system".
It added that the agreements would "tackle issues which are not yet ready for multilateral discussion and by preparing the ground for the next level of multilateral liberalisation."