The role of civil society in the free trade agreement between the EU and India

Key points:

An EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would cover over a fifth of the global population, making it one of the most significant FTAs in the world. It has the potential to bring significant benefits for society to both the EU and India.

However, the EESC is concerned with its uncertain social and environmental effects for the EU, especially in terms of Mode 4 (mobility of workers) and for the poorer segments of Indian society.

The EESC recalls that, pursuant to Article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EU's common commercial policy must be conducted "in the context of the principles and objectives of the Union's external action", and that, pursuant to Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union, it must contribute, inter alia, to sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and protection of human rights.

The process for negotiating this FTA, including the identification of its potential impacts, has several weaknesses. The EESC recommends the immediate undertaking of new studies and workshops that expressly take into account the impact of the FTA on the EU and Indian civil society (in particular regarding Mode 4, SMEs, labour rights, women, consumers protection, the informal economy, agriculture poverty and the impact on the accessibility of basic products such as live-saving medicines).

 The EESC calls on the Council, Parliament and Commission to ensure that the agreement is governed by an effective human rights clause in line with the EU’s past practice and stated policy; includes an ambitious sustainable development chapter containing labour and environmental provisions enforceable by means of the normal dispute settlement procedures, with effective remedies and include a social safeguards clause.

 It also recommends that a strong civil society monitoring mechanism of the Agreement be established.