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Trade and sustainable development chapters : our proposals

Mathilde Dupré, 1 November 2021

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In the framework of the European Commission’s consultation on trade and sustainable development, the Veblen Institute publishes joint proposals with Eurogroup for Animals, Clientearth, FERN and the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and calls on the European Commission to better prevent the negative impacts of trade rules on the environment and human rights and to align EU trade policy with the objectives announced in the European Green Deal.

Following the Coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission published a new communication on EU trade policy in early 2021. In this context, and in the face of growing civil society mobilisation against trade agreements, it has chosen to bring forward the review of its 2018 15-points action plan on trade and sustainable development, originally scheduled for 2023.

In a letter to Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, our five organisations detailed ten key reforms needed to better integrate environmental and social issues into EU trade policy.

Nos propositions

To begin with, the trade and sustainable development chapters should establish criteria conditioning the granting of trade benefits to specific products with high risks to the climate, biodiversity or human rights violations.

Drawing on the lessons of the EU-South Korea dispute, we also suggest that the clauses included in these chapters should be detailed in order to make commitments, which are currently often vague, specific and measurable. This could be done by providing details on how multilateral environmental agreements should be implemented, or by making explicit commitments in areas where international agreements do not exist - for example on animal welfare. At the same time, EU trade agreements should provide for the possibility of sanctions for non-compliance with the commitments in these chapters.

These chapters should also include a ’review and revision’ clause that could be triggered if an ex-post evaluation were to reveal that the trade provisions of the FTA are having a negative impact on the environment, human rights or animals, or that the sustainable development provisions are proving ineffective.

We also call for each trading partner to be required to have an adequate complaint mechanism available in the event of a breach of commitments, and for the EU to strengthen and improve the recently launched single entry point. The powers and expertise of the expert group on sustainable development dispute settlement, as well as the national advisory groups, should also be strengthened. Finally, negotiations on EU FTAs should ensure more democratic participation and involve experts and decision-makers with expertise in sustainability, and be based on robust ex-ante sustainability impact assessments.

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