EU lawmakers must put sustainability at the heart of the bloc’s trade policy or risk losing public support, said Bernd Lange. And that means having civil society at the heart, adds the German legislator who chairs the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade.
“Trade is really important for the EU. One in seven jobs depends on commerce. But civil society is very concerned about the outcome of trade policy regarding sustainability and increasing competition and if we cannot really address these concerns, we will lose public support for trade policy ”, said Lange, who has chaired his committee, one of the most influential in parliament, since 2014.
The EU’s trade agenda has been stalled in recent years by growing public skepticism that proposed deals with the US, Canada and countries in South America will benefit businesses or lead to lower standards. environmental or social.
However, Lange says the provisions on these standards have gradually increased.
“There is no doubt that if you look at the EU’s trade policy over the past fifteen years, you can see that, step by step, there have been improvements,” says Lange, although he concedes that addressing sustainability and social standards in trade agreements “are not in the hearts of some traditional trade policy makers in the European Commission”.
“I guess they have recognized that there is a need to stabilize modern trade policy, otherwise we will have no chance of getting trade policy measures through parliament and public acceptance,” he adds. he.
Lange, along with other lawmakers, wants to strengthen the role of National Advisory Groups (DAGs), which connect citizens to trade issues and are responsible for providing advice on all aspects of EU trade agreements.
“It is very important to have the participation of civil society. Ultimately, trade policy must benefit the people on the ground, not individual companies. That was the idea behind the creation of the national advisory groups, and step by step we are learning how to improve the possibilities. Lange said.
Measures to ensure respect for labor and other human rights in countries with which the EU has trade agreements are part of the Commission’s EU trade strategy document tabled in May.
They include the promise of new EU legislation on corporate governance and responsibility and a law ensuring that products contributing to deforestation cannot be imported into Europe.
The Commission’s business strategy also proposes the appointment of an enforcement officer to deal with complaints in cases of violations of labor and other human rights, or of environmental damage in the areas. trading partner countries.
“I think it’s welcome and it’s really important to have a person or organization that you can go to to bring your concerns and issues up, and the market access platform. We have the guarantee that each case will be followed up and investigated, ”explains Lange from the enforcement officer position.
“We need to make sure that the phrase ‘value-based trade policy’ is not just a phrase. “
He argues that DAGs should have the right to lodge complaints and also demand government consultation in a binding form.
Representatives of the DAG should also be invited to hold regular exchanges of views with the INTA committee.
Lange says that despite the obstacles encountered in many countries without a tradition of social dialogue, the DAGs “are already doing a good job”.
“In many countries, there are developments in the direction of social dialogue as we know it here in Europe,” he adds.
Concerns were also expressed about the lack of resources for DAGs in some countries to do their work.
“We should put money on the table to fund the possibilities of civil society in these countries, and the frequency of meetings,” said Lange, who adds that his committee recently discussed with the Commission the need to strengthen the role of EU delegations in supporting the work of DAGs.
However, there is a gap in the enforcement and imposition of remedies in cases where companies and governments violate the standards set out in trade pacts.
Lange presented his own proposals for a revised model chapter with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung that would cover sanctions and compensation procedures.
“My proposal was to set compensation for the victims. Now we are thinking more about the idea of company-based compensation, ”Lange told EURACTIV.
“By the end of the year we will have an agreement with the Commission on what this enforcement process will look like in the future.”
Some countries have opposed the EU’s planned carbon adjustment mechanism, with a number of African states arguing that the proposed tax would hit them disproportionately despite being responsible for many carbon emissions. weaker than Europe.
“Yes, we also have to be fair. The obligations of the Paris Agreement are different for the EU and, for example, Morocco and Tunisia, and this affects the carbon border mechanism. At the international level, we need to be clear and not give the impression that we are protectors, ”said Lange.
However, it is clear that the application of labor and environmental standards is “not just a European idea or an imperialist European vision”, stressing that most of the countries of the world have adhered to the Sustainable Development Goals of United Nations, core labor standards of the International Labor Organization, UN environmental standards and the Paris climate agreement.
“These are universal standards. We put our finger on the commitments countries have made. We want the full implementation of these commitments; No more no less”.