A week of EESC outstanding engagements on Trade and sustainable development (TSD) is proof that the voice of civil society matters when it comes to delivering a truly sustainable trade policy. It is also the result of relentless efforts to bring clear, relevant and operational recommendations to the table by means of its opinions. The debate is at its peak as the EU Commission reviews its own approach to TSD and Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs).
“Time is up for Commission Non-papers”, warned the EESC rapporteur Ms Tanja Buzek. Civil society has high expectations and calls for an “ambitious TSD review” that should “feature a sanctionable enforcement approach with stronger civil society monitoring, also using innovative new instruments and enhancing the leverage for TSD”.
Invited by the French Presidency of the Council, rapporteur Ms Buzek had the honour to present the Committee’s opinion on a Next Generation Trade and Sustainable Development at an International Conference on more sustainable and responsible trade. The High-level Presidency event in Paris featured a list of renowned actors like the EU Executive-Vice President and Trade Commissioner Mr Valdis Dombrovskis, the World Trade Organisation Director-General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the chair of the EP INTA Committee Mr Bernd Lange and the United States Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai.
Not ‘one silver bullet’ but stepping up effective enforceability
Conscious of how challenging, and sometimes even misleading, the debates about enforcement and sanctions could be, Ms Buzek stressed the strength of the EESC recommendations. The opinion was adopted with full support of the business, trade union and wider civil society group last October. This was both proof and an important signal for the Commission that it is possible to reconcile positions and set a joint path for the future.
The prospect of possible sanctions down the line was a crucial element to secure a constructive and successful dialogue with partners. It was not a question of “either / or”. Following up on United States Ambassador Tai’s shared experiences, the EESC rapporteur advocated looking into innovative enforcement approaches and praised the French and Dutch proposal of linking a staged tariff reduction to the progress of TSD implementation as “a very clever tool”. For a real game changer on the ground beyond “classic TSD chapters”, Ms Buzek expressed high expectations for the much-anticipated mandatory EU due diligence legislation to deliver across the entire supply chains.
Reaching out to the French Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade, Mr Franck Riester, the EESC rapporteur called on the French Presidency to engage with the DAGs in a year of crucial debates on the future of the sustainable side of the EU trade agreements. She concluded with a clear moto that was gaining traction: “There is no sustainability without civil society”.
“Early harvest” in the EP: DAGs are breaking down the silos
In a meeting of the INTA Committee of the European Parliament (EP), Ms Buzek joined Members of the EP in her role as EESC Follow-up Committee Chair on International Trade and EESC DAG coordinator, and debated on the role of the Domestic Advisory Groups and the review of the 15-point action plan on TSD. For the first time, a selection of EU DAG chairs shared their challenges and recommendations on how to tackle them with members of the INTA Committee. As the EESC DAG coordinator highlighted, this exchange responded to one of the "key demands of the DAGs about strengthening their institutional channels and breaking down the silos”. Joining the ranks of the EU DAG chairs on Vietnam, Canada and the Andean countries of Ecuador, Columbia and Peru, the EESC DAG coordinator and UK DAG chair stressed the need for DAGs to be visible, and for their recommendations to be meaningful and have a real impact. Together they also echoed key recommendations of the Non-paper of the EU DAGs.
At a third event hosted by the EP Fair Trade Working Group on Global trade, fair enough?, the EESC Trade Chair pressed further to ensure the full DAG potential. Asked about the recent expansion of the DAG's scope from TSD provisions to the full agreement in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) and whether this could be considered as a model for the future, Ms Buzek supported the change, but drawing from her role as chair of this EU DAG, she suggested there were lessons still to be learnt to make a working model.
EESC building up momentum of the TSD Review
This week centre-staged EESC recommendations on how international trade could be more sustainable, focussing on multiple aspects of international trade agreements: the content of trade and sustainable development provisions, their monitoring and their enforcement, to be coupled with proactive involvement of key actors like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as well as the effective and efficient use of civil society processes and structures, notably the DAGs. In her interventions as EESC Rapporteur, DAG chair and DAG coordinator, Ms Buzek underlined the EESC’s crucial role in supporting the DAGs in their self-empowerment. Proud of the DAGs coming together to turn existing frustrations into actions, the EESC is providing the platform for the new #AllDAGs format, bringing together all members of the EU DAGs once a year.
Stay tuned for further news.