Trade policy in exceptional times: this week negotiation rounds on the updating of the trade aspect of the EU-Chile Association Agreement are being held remotely. In the run-up to this round, the EU-Chile Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) adopted a joint declaration on the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. JCC members flagged up the danger of increased social inequality and supported bilateral and multilateral cooperation as the best way to tackle the crisis.
It is through the JCC that the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and its Chilean counterpart organisations fulfil their mandate under the EU-Chile Association Agreement. This involves assisting the Association Council in promoting dialogue and cooperation between the various economic and social organisations of civil society in the European Union and Chile.
In their joint declaration, JCC members defined the pandemic as a
historic challenge, emphasising the health, economic, human, social and political crisis triggered by COVID-19 that will have
profound consequences for all aspects of bilateral relations between the EU and Chile, including trade, freedom of movement and social aspects.
As stated in the declaration, before the pandemic Chile was already facing a deep social and political crisis that was causing inequality and a lack of opportunities for most of the population. The COVID-19 outbreak has the potential to worsen the situation, as it threatens the livelihoods of many vulnerable groups. JCC members agreed that
political responses must ensure that help reaches those workers and businesses that most need it to guarantee social stability.
In order to achieve this, JCC members expressed their support for international cooperation and multilateral solutions as the best way to tackle the crisis. They particularly welcomed the efforts of the United Nations, the G20, the G7, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and international financial institutions to provide a global response.
They also supported the call by the co-presidents of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat) to governments, central banks and regional development banks to make use of all instruments at their disposal, including fiscal and monetary measures, to fight the fallout of the crisis.
JCC members affirmed that
there are fundamental issues which are even more important in times of crisis, but which are at risk of being overlooked, such as protecting the environment, promoting workers' safety, guaranteeing the sustainability of businesses, promoting gender equality and protecting consumers. In this regard, they pointed out that the updated Association Agreement must reflect the commitment of the Parties
not to encourage trade or foreign direct investment by watering down environmental, labour or health and safety legislation and standards.
The role of civil society
They also noted that
civil society is an essential and indispensable driver for the necessary transition to a more sustainable society and pointed to the JCC's consultative role as a civil society body. The JCC members reiterated their call for the EU-Chile Joint Consultative Committee to be retained under the future updated Agreement,
in such a way that the JCC can express its views on any issue covered by the Agreement, including the trade chapter.
They also called on the Association Agreement authorities to provide
all the institutional political, operational and financial support needed by the Chilean civil society organisations in order to build up their capacity, strength and skills, to enhance their presence in both social and civil dialogue at national level, and maintain operations as a counterpart for European civil society at a bilateral level.
This includes not only the financial resources to carry out its activities but also respecting its full independence and keeping JCC members promptly and fully informed at all stages of the negotiations on the updated Agreement.
The Association Agreement signed in 2002 between the EU and Chile is one of the longest-running associations and its forthcoming update will likely strengthen those ties. The EESC has kept up excellent contacts with Chilean civil society over the years, primarily through biennial EU-Latin America Organised Civil Society meetings.
Since October 2016, this relationship has taken the form of a Joint Consultative Committee, set up by an equal number of EESC members and members of the corresponding institution dealing with economic and social matters in the Republic of Chile.
The JCC meets once a year to debate and enables civil society organisations on both sides to debate topics of common interest and to monitor the updating of the Association Agreement.
On the EESC side, JCC members are: Josep Puxeu Rocamora (Chair), Thomas McDonogh and Marie Zvolská from Group I; Tatjana Babrauskienė, Giuseppe Iuliano and José María Zufiaur Narvaiza from Group II; and John Bryan, Renate Heinisch and Meelis Joost from Group III.