In recent years, EU trade policy has become a true issue of debate in the civil society at national level: that shows the need to bring trade policy closer to EU citizens. EU Member States have different existing national structures, procedures and consultation methods, as well as ratification processes; however, citizens from most countries not always seem to be able to fully express their voices in national debates on trade policy. The objective of the event was that of a) assessing and examining the different kinds of consultation procedures that exist in the Member States; b) exploring how civil society and consultative structures, wherever they exist, are informed or consulted on negotiations and implementation of trade agreements, and c) promoting the experience of the EESC in the domain of the EU trade policy.
International trade is governed by a complex mixture of global rules agreed under World Trade Organization and bilateral and multilateral agreements. The free trade agreements are having a growing impact on citizens' rights. Under the Lisbon Treaty, EU trade policy must be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the Union’s external action, including promotion of the rule of law, human rights and sustainable development.
We believe that this trend should be a guiding principle in EU trade negotiations and in trade relations. The fact that we at the EESC reconcile the positions and views of business, workers, professionals, farmers, consumers and other important stakeholders contributes real added value. We are in a position to efficiently relay the opinions of civil society and interest groups to international policy-makers both during negotiations and in the implementation of trade agreements. We have set up a Follow-up Committee on International trade to ensure that civil society has a say in the shaping of EU trade policy. We are also managing the Domestic Advisory groups set up under the trade and sustainable development chapters of the EU "new generation" trade agreements. These groups, composed of civil society representatives (from inside and outside the EESC) are responsible for identifying trade and sustainable development-related problems in the implementation of a trade agreement.
As the world’s largest exporter and importer of foreign direct investment, it is of paramount importance for the EU to ensure that the resolution of investment disputes operates effectively on an international level. Many countries are currently engaged in internal reflections regarding their policies on investment protection and investment dispute settlement. The EESC aims therefore to make a timely contribution to this ongoing and highly interesting debate.
At the request of the European Commission, the EESC is currently drafting an own-initiative opinion on a possible future multilateral court for the settlement of investment disputes. The European Commission proposes for this court to become a permanent body to decide investment disputes, under the auspices of the United Nations Commission on International Trade law (UNCITRAL).
With a view to gather expert input during the preparatory process for this opinion from a wide range of stakeholders - civil society organisations, think tanks, and EU institutions included - a hearing was organised at the EESC premises on the legislative proposal of the European Commission on the establishment of a framework for screening of foreign direct investments into the European Union. The proposal aims to enable the EU Member States and the Commission to screen foreign direct investment on the grounds of security or public order.
The Consultative Committee (CC) is one of the 5 institutions foreseen in the EU-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement. The CC is composed of 40 (25 from the CARIFORM side and 15 from the EU side) standing representatives of organisations of the civil society representing employers' organisations, trade unions, other economic, social and non-governmental organisations, including development and environmental organisations; and the academic community.
The 5th meeting of the EU-Ukraine Civil Society Platform took place on 15 November 2017 in Kyiv. During the meeting, a debate was held assessing the state of play in the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, and two reports, prepared by both sides, were discussed and adopted – on the Progress in the implementation of Euro-integration reforms in the field of Science and Technology, and on The rights of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). A Joint Declaration was adopted at the end of the meeting to be forwarded to the EU-Ukraine Association Council, the Association Committee, the Parliamentary Association Committee and other relevant bodies both in Ukraine as well as in the EU.
During the meeting, the EU DAG discussed with a representative of the European Commission the preparation for the meetings with Korea under the trade and sustainable development chapter, as well as about the current business environment in Korea and presentation of the white paper of the European Chamber of Commerce in Korea. Preparations of the 6th meeting of the EU-Korea Civil Society Forum in Seoul were also discussed.
In the light of the agreement in principle reached in July 2017 between the EU and Japan on an Economic Partnership Agreement, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)'s Follow-up Committees on International Trade and Japan are taking the opportunity to organise a half-day joint seminar. The seminar aims at examining the significance of the EU-Japan Agreement in the global context, reflecting on the role that civil society may play in the implementation of such agreement, and aims to assess possible challenges and benefits for different stakeholders (the business community, workers, farmers, consumers, etc.).
The hearing aimed to identify how trade and investment policies can contribute to the achievement of SDGs. The main questions which were discussed during the debate included: can trade and sustainable development be mutually reinforcing? Are there SDGs, which are particularly dependent on the existence on an open, rule-based, equitable multilateral trade system? What should be the role of private sector in achieving SDGs through trade and investment policies? Can civil society be instrumental in achieving SDGs through trade policy? How can ''Aid for trade'' be an efficient tool for achieving SDGs?
During the meeting, members of the GCI were informed by the President on the civil society meeting of EuroLat's standing parliamentary committees (22-24 May), the hearing in the Walloon Parliament concerning the current state of The EU-Colombia, Peru and the FTA of Ecuador, as well as the public with DG Trade on the current status of the Advisory Groups. They were then interviewed by the European Commission on the preparation of the 2017 Civil Society Forum and the process of Ecuador's accession to the agreement.
During the meeting, the Commission representative provided information about the annual meetings of the Board on Trade and Sustainable Development (BTSD), as well as the debate on the participation of the advisory groups and their dialogue with the BTSD. Members also discussed the future of the advisory groups under the Trade and Sustainable Development Title of the European Union's agreements and the Renewal of the European advisory group's mandates (April 2018).