Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis plans for EU trade policy to place more focus on the subject of sustainability. Apart from a future initiative at WTO level, a new EU complaint mechanism shall also lead to improvements. However, looking at the Commission’s past initiatives, expectations are rather low. a
Within the scope of his Hearing at the EU Parliament in early October 2020, Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis had already announced a trade and climate initiative on WTO level, the focus of which should above all be on sustainable products. However, what has emerged within the scope of a dialogue with civil society representatives is a plan by the Commission to support above all further liberalisation of trade – an approach, which was immediately criticised by present civil society representatives.
Commission presents new complaint mechanism
With the “Single Entry Point”, the EU Commission also presented mid-November 2020 a new complaint mechanism, which enables stakeholders to file complaints also in respect of breaches against sustainability chapters – for example with regard to labour law or the environment. Here, partner countries in trade agreements can be addressed in the same way as countries, which are favoured within the framework of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences. It remains to be seen, how consequently the Commission will pursue any complaints made. In the past, the measures by the Commission regarding better enforcement of the sustainability chapters were met with sometimes huge criticism, as shown the by the following example.
Der 15-Point Action Plan
During his hearing, Dombrovskis had also announced his intention to review the “15-Point Trade and Sustainable Development Action Plan as early as 2021 – two years earlier than originally planned. The Action Plan had been published in early 2018 under the then Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and had been a reaction to the ongoing debate on the (lack of) enforcement of the sustainability chapters.
In a debate with a representative of the Commission, which took place on 1 December 2020 in the EU Parliament’s Trade Committee, the Action Plan had on occasions been sharply criticised. MEP Joachim Schuster (S&D) for example referred to the situation in South Korea, where the agreed implementation of ILO Conventions is still overdue, even though the trade agreement came into force in 2011 and where trade unionists, because of their commitment are being pursued and imprisoned. Schuster accused the Commission of only talking about enforcing sustainability chapters when it needed the EU Parliament to approve of an Agreement.
AK demands effective Enforcement mechanism
The Chamber of Labour has long been criticising the absent enforcement of sustainability chapters in the EU’s trade agreements as well as the lack of opportunity to impose sanctions when agreed commitments were not complied with. Hence, the chapters must be immediately furnished with an enforcement mechanism, which enables sanctions in case of violations against internationally recognised labour and environmental standards. Human rights activists and civil society must be able to address such violations within the framework of the general dispute settlement mechanism. Apart from that, the compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement should be made an important component of all comprehensive trade agreements. This is also provided for by the much discussed France-Netherlands proposal on trade, social economic effects and sustainable development, which was published in May 2020.