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Trade and sustainable development chapters in EU Free Trade agreements

EESC opinion: Trade and sustainable development chapters in EU Free Trade agreements

Composition of the study group

Key points:

The EESC has played an important role in raising awareness of EU trade policy among civil society both in the EU and in third countries. The EESC encourages the Commission to strengthen its dialogue with civil society to develop the functioning of TSD chapters in current and future trade agreements. However, the EESC urges the Commission to be more ambitious in its approach, in particular with respect to strengthening effective enforceability of the commitments in TSD chapters, which is of crucial importance to the EESC. TSD chapters must be given equal weight to those covering commercial, technical or tariff issues.

The EESC recommends mandating DAGs to monitor the impact of all parts of trade agreements on human, labour and environmental rights, and the scope needs to cover consumer interests. Furthermore, the EESC criticises the lack of response by the Commission to complaints raised by the DAG. Therefore, monitoring mechanisms should be able to independently trigger investigations into violations of clear TSD commitments. The EESC urges the Commission to establish a more transparent and streamlined complaint mechanism and further recommends that DAG chairs should participate in the TSD Committee meetings and that the TSD Committee should be required to respond to issues and recommendations raised by the DAGs, within a reasonable timeframe. It recommends a regular dialogue between the EU DAGs, the Commission, the EEAS, the European Parliament and the EU Member States.

With respect to labour provisions, partner countries should demonstrate full respect of the eight ILO Core Labour Conventions before the conclusion of a trade agreement. If a partner country has not ratified or properly implemented these Conventions, or demonstrated an equivalent level of protection, the EESC recommends that a roadmap on solid commitments is sought, to be included in the TSD Chapter to ensure this be achieved in a timely manner.

The EESC notes that the non-paper raises the issue of sanctions and encourages the Commission to investigate further existing sanctions mechanisms in trade agreements, their usage hitherto and learn from their potential limitations, in order to assess and improve the effectiveness of an enforceable compliance mechanism that could be developed in TSD chapters.