Can European trade and investment policy promote sustainable development and social justice at home and abroad?
Setting out its positive agenda for business while insisting on the importance of promoting European values, the European Commission’s new ‘Trade for all’ Communication is a timely update on EU trade and investment policy, according to a recently published opinion by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
‘Trade for all – Towards a more responsible trade and investment policy’ emphasises the use of trade agreements “as levers to promote, around the world, values like sustainable development, human and social rights, fair and ethical trade and the fight against corruption”. The EESC welcomes the Communication’s pledge that “no EU trade agreement will lead to lower levels of consumer, environmental or social and labour protection”. The Committee also welcomes the commitment to transparency and to increased support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The role of civil society in the partnership for implementation of the Communication should be further developed
In its opinion the Committee notes the need for greater civil society involvement throughout the negotiations and then through the implementation process. The EESC is well placed due to its institutional role to help deliver this, through its wide range of contacts both at home and abroad. The Committee finds signally disappointing the failure of the Communication to refer to the civil society monitoring mechanisms covering the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters in existing EU trade agreements, nor to how these might be developed and strengthened. The Committee considers that balanced, structured and reinforced civil society monitoring mechanisms are needed for implementation of trade agreements. Capacity building and better promotion are important too, both with partner countries and with local civil society to encourage more organisations to take part.
Missing link for SDGs
Trade and investment will play a profound role in realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and meeting COP 21 objectives, according to the EESC. However, the opinion states that “the essential link with the overall EU approach to the implementation of the SDGs is missing” with only two references to the SDGs in the Communication. Understanding how global supply chains (GSC) and global value chains (GVC) impact on the economy and labour market in third countries is an important element. The Committee welcomes the Commission’s commitment to ensuring responsible management of global supply chains, which it states is “essential to align trade policy with European values”. The Committee’s recent report on ‘Corporate social and societal responsibility’ and an upcoming opinion on ‘Decent work in GSCs’ look closely at how globalised production of goods and services might contribute to the creation of decent employment and sustainable growth.
Member States should step in into an informed debate on EU trade policy
It is no longer accepted that liberalised trade is automatically beneficial. Trade and investment are now part of the public agenda and “the positive case for trade and especially investment needs to be constantly restated” according to the opinion. A high level of well-informed debate at EU and national level will enable wider engagement and public support for a fairer global system of trade.
Information Report: Corporate social and societal responsibility
Link to the EESC REX page on Decent work in Global supply chains