If we want EU trade policy to become truly sustainable before the end of this legislature, the Commission and the Council must step up their game, writes a group of MEPs, presenting their New Year’s resolution to contribute to fairness world.
This opinion piece is co-authored by a group of Members of the European Parliament (full list below) and published exclusively by EURACTIV.
On a positive note, it can be said that trade policy – despite its technical nature – has never been so much in the spotlight. The COVID pandemic and the disruptions it has created in global supply chains have made it even more central to the – very legitimate – concerns of citizens.
From heightened awareness of the environmental impacts of certain products to human rights (think of the situation of the Uyghurs), citizens across Europe have shown a high level of interest in global trade and its impact. We see this as a necessary and democratic step forward in trade discussions which should be taken into account by all EU institutions.
Despite these developments, the Commission and the Council have not put their money where they say they will.
Not only has the Council been unable to agree on a position on the European Commission’s trade policy review, but the European Commission itself has also been dragging its feet in bringing forward legislation on due diligence as well as on forced labour.
If we want EU trade policy to become truly sustainable before the end of this legislature, the Commission and the Council must step up their game.
Review of the 15-point action plan on TSD chapters
As democratically elected representatives working on the subject and advocating for change for years, we call for an urgent review of mechanisms and approaches to make trade policy more coherent with the declared agenda of the EU.
The revision of the 15-point action plan chapters on trade and sustainable development (TSD) in EU trade agreements offers a unique opportunity in this regard. It allows the EU to rethink the link between trade and environmental issues and labor rights.
Certainly, there have been positive developments in recent years. The One Stop Shop, for example, now provides a clear institutional mechanism through which complaints about TSD chapters can be lodged.
The proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism, under certain conditions, can also provide a legitimate tool to achieve more sustainable global trade; but much remains to be done.
The Holy Trinity of Sustainability: Implementation, Monitoring and Enforcement
We need more concrete and ambitious actions regarding the implementation, monitoring and enforcement of CSD chapters and trade agreements as a whole.
With regard to implementation, the EU should continue to promote universally recognized standards and agreements such as the fundamental ILO conventions and the Paris agreement.
Yet we must go beyond ratification and ensure that the practices and legislation of trading partners are aligned with these universal standards. Before any agreement enters into force, a clear action plan must be negotiated to address existing implementation gaps.
If a trading partner is experiencing enforcement challenges (e.g. regarding child labor in the agricultural supply chain), the enforcement toolkit should be closely aligned with the development assistance of the trading partner. the EU to resolve the underlying causes.
In order to know if the TSD chapters are implemented, monitoring needs to be improved. The EU should rely much more on national advisory groups. These civil society advisory bodies (composed of organizations such as trade unions, environmental organisations, NGOs and companies) are created for each recent trade agreement.
Being the eyes and ears on the ground, they know what is really going on in a trading partner country. Their role should be upgraded, as they themselves have recently indicated. Cooperation with the ILO and environmental organizations should be intensified.
Third, we must ensure that our trade agreements have effective mechanisms to enforce labor and environmental standards. We need clear consequences to target the source of the violation and remedy the situation.
Trade can become a powerful just transition tool, for Europeans and the rest of the world
The EU aims to position itself as a global champion of just transition.
Putting sustainable development at the center of EU trade policy will not only align our trade policy with our own environmental and social ambitions, but also make the EU a global actor for a just transition, especially in for the benefit of producers and workers in partner countries. .
Trade and sustainability are not limited to lofty ideals or token actions. It’s not just about stopping the goods made by forced labor at our borders. We need real change on the pitch.
Signed by the following deputies:
- Bernd Lange (S&D, Germany)
- Saskia Bricmont (Greens, Belgium)
- Marie-Pierre Vedrenne (Renew, France)
- Anna Cavazzini (Greens, Germany)
- Kathleen Van Brempt (S&D, Belgium)
- Helmut Scholz (The Left, Germany)
- Agnes Jongerius (S&D, Netherlands)
- Inma Rodriguez-Piñero (S&D, Spain)
- Udo Bullmann (S&D, Germany)
- Joachim Schuster (S&D, Germany)
- Margarida Marques (S&D, Portugal)