In a letter to European Commission and Council, Social Democrat, Green, Left and Liberal MEPs appealed to both institutions to increase their efforts to achieve a more sustainable trade policy. This was necessary in order to finally reconcile EU trade policy with the double transformation before the end of this legislative period.
Due to the global supply chain interruptions caused by the Coronavirus, the focus has recently been increasingly put on trade policy. Products manufactured causing dramatic environmental damage and human rights violations and sold in the Global North, attracted a lot of attention among citizens all over Europe. However, in light of these developments according to the signatory MEPs, both Commission and Council are lacking ambition: admittedly, there were some positive developments, such as the introduction of the “Single Entry Point”, which enables complaints regarding infringements against provisions in sustainability chapters. However, the Council was not able to agree on a position to review the trade policy by the European Commission. Furthermore, until recently, the European Commission has delayed the submission of legislation on human rights due diligence and corporate accountability.
Chapter on trade und more sustainable development (TSD) shall be revised
Sustainability chapters in EU trade agreements shall oblige trading partners to adhere to certain labour, social and environmental standards. In 2020, EC Vice-President and Trade Commissioner Dombrovskis announced the review of the chapter on trade and sustainable development (TSD) to ensure the improved application and enforcement of these standards. The final version shall be presented in early February 2022. The MEPs, who have signed the letter, attach great importance to the review of the TSD chapter. However, it is important that the measures of the TSD chapter are indeed monitored and enforced in the countries of the trading partners.
Sustainable trade policy requires implementation, monitoring and enforcement
The letter emphasises that it has to be ensured that prior to trade agreements taking effect any possible implementation gaps with regard to practices and legislation of trading partners have to be closed by an action plan. Furthermore, improved monitoring is required to establish how TSD chapters are actually implemented. Trade unions, environmental organisations, NGOs and businesses shall play a part in consultation committees. Finally, it must also be ensured that trade agreements are furnished with effective mechanisms to enforce labour and environmental standards. This requires clear consequences in order to establish the cause of infringements.
Trade as a solution to environmental and social shortcomings?
The MEPs regard trade policy as a powerful instrument to achieve the EU’s environmental and social ambitions. However, Sabine Weyand, Director General of DG Trade only partly agreed: during the last debate with civil society on 25 January 2022, she had warned against overloading trade agreements. Even though it was important that sustainability was part of trade agreements, it could not solve all sustainability problems. However, some prioritisation by the European Union could definitely increase the ability to enforce sustainability by means of autonomous instruments. She cited the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (APS), which is currently being renegotiated, as an example. With regard to social aspects, the announcement by the Commission intending to ban forced labour, e.g. the Uyghurs in China, is particularly welcomed. This new ban shall make it easier to reconcile the trade policy with the values of the EU and shall help the EU distinguish itself as a global pioneer for a just transition in trade policy.
A&W Blog: Trading with the Global South (German only)