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For decades, companies have been deploying the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) to sue 55 Member States in investor state dispute settlement proceedings for amounts running into billions if these, due to (environmental) laws, risked reducing their chances of making profit. The Energy Charter Treaty in particular precludes the fight against the climate crisis and the necessary conversion to CO2 neutral energy, like the phase-out of oil and coal.

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During a trade policy workshop on 19th November 2019, experts discussed how trade agreements put public services at risk and what options there are to align trade policy in such a way that sustainable and public services can be guaranteed for all. The workshop, jointly organised by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), AK EUROPA, the Austrian Trade Union Federation Europe office (ÖGB) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), thus linked experts across national and European borders.

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Threatened by US President Trump’s hostile trade measures, the EU agreed to engage into new trade negotiations. However, those are marked by a lack of transparency. Even though the scope of the negotiations is officially rather limited, the report “Trading away protection”, published by Corporate Europe Observatory and AK EUROPA, found signs that the EU negotiators and the corporate lobby groups involved are keen on bringing in more aspects. This would lead to a kind of TTIP-light.

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The European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström will probably hand her office over to the Irishman Phil Hogan on 1st December. It is thanks to her that more light had been shed on the effects of EU foreign trade on women. Now it is up to the new Commissioner to fight against existing inequalities.

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The first hearings of the Commissioners-designate took place in the European Parliament on 30th September. One of the first to be questioned was the Irishman Phil Hogan who appeared before the Trade Committee. He is no stranger on the European stage: currently he is Agriculture Commissioner and was able to do relatively well in his hearing. However, from the AK’s point of view, some of his replies were too vague and there was especially a lack of commitment with regard to sustainability.

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Since 1999 already, the EU and the Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) have been negotiating a trade deal. Now a political agreement has been reached and the texts were published. The Chamber of Labour (AK) opposes the Agreement.

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The EU is currently negotiating a trade agreement with the Mercosur countries (South America) to expand mutual market access. Apart from the basic criticism of the concept of European trade agreements, the situation of human rights and environmental developments in Brazil give cause for concern. Hence, civil society organisations are urging EU decision-makers to take action.

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The past five years have been an intense period for European trade policy. AK EUROPA now takes the end of the legislative period as an opportunity for a résumé and a forecast. In doing so, the focus is on criticism aimed at the protection of corporate interests against the rights of European citizens.

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In January 2019, EU Commission published negotiation mandates for two trade agreements with the USA. The negotiations are taking place under time pressure. From the point of view of the Chamber of Labour this is not ideal for a trade agreement. In a now published AK Position Paper as well as a joint statement by the AK President and the ÖGB President, detailed comments have been made on some points of criticism.

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Éva Dessewffy

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