GT7 – Sustainable development in EU trade agreements: much ado about nothing?
EU bilateral trade agreements have generated a lot of discomfort in EU civil society as regards their role in promoting sustainable development. This needs addressing, bearing in mind that their geographic reach is limited and that their content will always depend on the will of third countries to conclude negotiations on the terms of the EU. Nevertheless, it is possible to address three main weaknesses.
First, the scope of environmental provisions and the strength of commitments are generally too weak. The way forward is to redesign the approach to sustainable development in EU FTAs by introducing incentive mechanisms, negotiating clearer and more detailed commitments, defining “essential clauses” and looking beyond TSD chapters to mainstream sustainable development across the FTA.
Secondly, the dispute settlement mechanisms are not effective enough. There is a need to add remedies to ensure an effective enforcement, by introducing a formal complaint mechanism for business and civil society to lodge their assessments of the implementation of the FTA in relation to sustainable development and adopting a more proactive attitude toward consultations under the TSD dispute settlement mechanism.
Thirdly, the level of involvement of civil society and of information and transparency needs improving. Civil society’s involvement in monitoring the sustainable development dimension of FTAs should be revamped to unleash fully its potential to identify issues, propose solutions and establish transnational links to trading partner’s civil society organizations.
Finally, it is time to re-assess the role of bilateral trade agreements to green EU trade policy. The EU needs a strategy to green its trade policy across the board and to that effect, a better mix of tools to coherently combine the different levels of action – FTAs, autonomous measures, sector-specific policy EU initiatives, multilateral agreements and cooperation.