Abstract: Trade policy constitutes a significant part of the European Union’s (EU) foreign policy. The EU’s emphasis on global trade liberalization in the 21st century is most evident through its ever increasing number of modern, deep, bilateral trade agreements. However, aspects of EU trade policy and bilateral agreements are hotly contested. We examine this by comparing the rhetoric employed by European civil society organizations from 2013 through 2020. While the focus of contestation and the rhetorical strategy remained fairly consistent, the effects of contestation (politicization, institutionalization of new processes) changed, largely due to the presence or absence of negotiations on a deep trade agreement with an economic and political equal perceived to have greater bargaining power. This study contributes to the literature on norm contestation and politicization by providing empirical evidence that mere contestation is insufficient for politicization, and by showing show that perceived bargaining strength influences trade politicization.