EESC opinion: A new framework for free trade agreements, economic partnership and investment agreements that guarantees the real involvement of CSOs and the social partners and ensures public awareness
The COVID-19 crisis has had an unprecedented impact on the global economy, trade and investment. The crisis has brought about major upheaval worldwide and sparked a debate on the need to overhaul national and European trade and industrial policies, by upgrading and guaranteeing "strategic production" (in areas such as health, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, transport, etc.).
The EU's decision to promote the dual digital and green-economy transitions will inevitably have consequences for European trade policies. In this context, the tools of the European trade policy need to be revamped. Among these instruments, the EU's bilateral free trade, economic partnership and investment agreements play a particularly important role.
The EESC, civil society and the social partners wish to be properly and more closely involved in the various stages of bilateral trade (or investment or economic partnership) agreements between the European Union and other trading partner countries, including:
agreement's impact assessment;
monitoring of the agreement's implementation.
This proposal aims to preserve transparency of the agreement's negotiating process, while ensuring its confidentiality.
The new, more effective framework should enable a proper involvement of the civil society during the various negotiation phases, as well as during the implementation of the bilateral trade (or investment or economic partnership) agreements. According to the proposal, a Memorandum of Understanding between the EC and partner countries would be signed at the beginning of the negotiations, committing them to ensure transparency of the process, and engaging with social partners as observers with certain rights and obligations.
The observers would be appointed in a balanced way, ensuring the representativeness of various groups of interest.