The European Union considers Trade Defence Instruments (i.e., anti-dumping, countervailing duties and safeguards) as a cornerstone of the EU trade policy in the battle against ‘unfair competition from across the globe’. At the same time, the rationale behind these instruments, or the fight against ‘unfair trade practices’, remains somehow woolly. In this article, we argue that it is crucial to unpack the different meanings bestowed on the concept of unfair trade. An interpretative perspective is therefore adopted in order to highlight the complexity behind this notion. The analysis is based on a systematic analysis of the debates revolving around the issue of Trade Defence Instruments held within the European Parliament during the current legislative session. First, we show that a specific storyline on unfair trade can be considered dominant. Second, we expose the ‘kaleidoscopic’ reality behind unfair trade, showing that this notion is a floating signifier. Against this backcloth, the article puts forward the argument that the institutionalisation of Trade Defence Instruments precisely relies on this character of unfair trade as a floating signifier.