In the light of the agreement in principle reached in July 2017 between the EU and Japan on an Economic Partnership Agreement, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)'s Follow-up Committees on International Trade and Japan are taking the opportunity to organise a half-day joint seminar. The seminar aims at examining the significance of the EU-Japan Agreement in the global context, reflecting on the role that civil society may play in the implementation of such agreement, and aims to assess possible challenges and benefits for different stakeholders (the business community, workers, farmers, consumers, etc.).
International trade is governed by a complex mixture of global rules agreed under World Trade Organization and bilateral and multilateral agreements. The free trade agreements are having a growing impact on citizens' rights. Under the Lisbon Treaty, EU trade policy must be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the Union’s external action, including promotion of the rule of law, human rights and sustainable development.
We believe that this trend should be a guiding principle in EU trade negotiations and in trade relations. The fact that we at the EESC reconcile the positions and views of business, workers, professionals, farmers, consumers and other important stakeholders contributes real added value. We are in a position to efficiently relay the opinions of civil society and interest groups to international policy-makers both during negotiations and in the implementation of trade agreements. We have set up a Follow-up Committee on International trade to ensure that civil society has a say in the shaping of EU trade policy. We are also managing the Domestic Advisory groups set up under the trade and sustainable development chapters of the EU "new generation" trade agreements. These groups, composed of civil society representatives (from inside and outside the EESC) are responsible for identifying trade and sustainable development-related problems in the implementation of a trade agreement.
The hearing aimed to identify how trade and investment policies can contribute to the achievement of SDGs. The main questions which were discussed during the debate included: can trade and sustainable development be mutually reinforcing? Are there SDGs, which are particularly dependent on the existence on an open, rule-based, equitable multilateral trade system? What should be the role of private sector in achieving SDGs through trade and investment policies? Can civil society be instrumental in achieving SDGs through trade policy? How can ''Aid for trade'' be an efficient tool for achieving SDGs?
During the meeting, members of the GCI were informed by the President on the civil society meeting of EuroLat's standing parliamentary committees (22-24 May), the hearing in the Walloon Parliament concerning the current state of The EU-Colombia, Peru and the FTA of Ecuador, as well as the public with DG Trade on the current status of the Advisory Groups. They were then interviewed by the European Commission on the preparation of the 2017 Civil Society Forum and the process of Ecuador's accession to the agreement.
During the meeting, the Commission representative provided information about the annual meetings of the Board on Trade and Sustainable Development (BTSD), as well as the debate on the participation of the advisory groups and their dialogue with the BTSD. Members also discussed the future of the advisory groups under the Trade and Sustainable Development Title of the European Union's agreements and the Renewal of the European advisory group's mandates (April 2018).
During the meeting, the EU DAG discussed with a representative of the European Commission the outcome and follow-up of the last CTSD meeting, held on March 24th, as well as the Commission's annual report on the EU-Korea FTA that was presented in June. Presentations of the recent developments in the Republic of Korea were also made by representatives of the correspondent country desk oin the European Commission and the EEAS. The EP shadow rapporteur on the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Korea, Dr Joachim Schuster, MEP (S&D Group), presented the European Parliament resolution adopted on 18 May 2017 to the EU DAG.
After the entry of force of CETA, Commissioner Malmstrom said she intends to "immediately open a broad debate based on thorough consultation of all stakeholders including EU Member States, Members of the European Parliament, Members of the European Economic and Social Committee and civil society". In this context, the European Commission asked the EESC to organise a discussion on a position paper, which was prepared by the European Commission on the assessment and possible options for improvement of the functioning of the TSD chapters, which focused on substantive provisions, institutional mechanisms, civil society participation and dispute settlement. The event was organised in the framework of this position paper.
During the meeting, the members of the DAG debriefed on the results of the meeting with Colombia and Peru under the Trade and Sustainable Development Title, which took place on 7-8 December in Brussels . The representatives of the European External Action Service (EEAS) presented information about the EU relations and cooperation with Colombia and Peru. The Representatives of the DG Trade informed the members of the DAG on recent developments regarding the Trade and Sustainable development chapter as well as on their recent mission to Ecuador. The Group held then an internal debate on the topics to be selected for the next joint meetings, on the state of play of constitution of DAGs in Colombia and Peru and on the rights of indigene communities in Peru.
During the 5th EU-Korea Civil Society Forum (CSF), participants will discuss labour standards with the ILO representative, including progress achieved by both Parties to the Agreement as well as the next steps in the ratification and effective implementation of the ILO fundamental and other up-to-date conventions. Both DAGs also will exchange information about the role of civil society in the EU and the Republic of Korea in the development and implementation of the climate change policy at national, EU and international level. They then will adopt final conclusions.
The discussion focussed on the preparation (topics, stakeholders, organizational aspects) of the Civil Society Forum with Korea and the Workshop on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), held In February in Brussels (20-21 February 2017).
The 8th meeting of the EU Advisory Group for the EU-Central America Association Agreement will take place on February 1st in Brussels.