EU DAGs are up and running for change

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After the first ever All DAGs meeting held in July as a ground-breaking step towards increasing impact, the chairs and vice-chairs of the civil society bodies advising on trade and sustainable development are starting to roll out recommendations to strengthen DAGs and deliver a clear message to the European Commission.

In their capacity as monitoring bodies representing civil society, Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs) have a say in implementing the trade and sustainable development (TSD) chapters of EU free trade agreements. While their number is increasing due to the proliferation of such agreements, EU DAGs face unresolved issues, such as limited administrative capacity to support their work, lack of institutional visibility and follow-up and difficulties in interacting with some non-EU counterpart DAGs, which are less structured and sometimes lack support from their countries' governments.

#AllDAGs event: the first of its kind

To share ideas and put forward recommendations to the European Commission's DG TRADE, an #AllDAGs meeting on 5 July 2021 brought together all members of the 11 EU DAGs. The event was organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) as the body providing the secretariat to all EU DAGs and ensuring they run smoothly. Set to coincide with the Commission's Review of the 15-point action plan on TSD, it was an opportunity for EU DAG members to engage in cross-cutting issues and seek sustainable solutions.

EESC President Christa Schweng reassured DAG members of the EESC's commitment to strengthening the EU's Trade and Sustainable Development policy and to provide a platform to boost DAGs visibility, and connect DAG presidencies and members with institutional channels and networks.

As the EU's Chief Trade Enforcement Officer (CTEO), Denis Redonnet underlined that DAGs are a "key tool in strengthening trade and sustainable development provisions". The CTEO proposed to make the All DAGs event a regular meeting, in order to improve the organisation of work and flow of information between the DAGs and the Commission.

Reflecting on how to strengthen their role and efficiency, Tom Jenkins as the longest serving EU DAG chair for the EU-Korea FTA, referred to a non-paper of the EU DAGs that had "an awful lot of good proposals for improving the DAGs". Bernd Lange, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade (INTA), committed to help DAGs open channels and give them the visibility they deserve.

Concluding the event, the president of the EESC's External Relations section Dimitris Dimitriadis reiterated that DAGs and international trade were top priorities for the REX section and the EESC as a whole: the EESC would continue to work for the DAGs and to support them.

Finally, Tanja Buzek, president of the EESC's International Trade Committee, summarised the rich discussions with key takeaways: the need to break down silos, to secure adequate resources, to increase the impact of DAGs and to give appropriate follow-up to the All DAGs event.

EU DAG presidencies "walk the walk"

With regard to this last point, the DAG chairs and vice-chairs called a first informal meeting on 8 October. Top on the list: all participants agreed on the importance of transparency and more visibility for the work of DAGs, by finally creating their own web space where everyone could easily find all the information.

Further messages to DG Trade: the importance of more exchanges between EU DAGs in the same geographical area (Asia-Pacific, the Americas, the EU Eastern Neighbourhood) and on cross-cutting issues (i.e. platform economy) was underlined, as well as addressing the ongoing problem of collaboration with non-EU DAG counterparts, in a situation where not all governments had made the composition of their DAGs clear. It is important for civil society in partner countries to have their voice heard too. Joining the informal meeting, DG TRADE reassured the DAG presidencies that there was a specific budget for meetings of non-EU DAGs, which had so far not been used by its possible beneficiaries. In this respect, a new website devoted to DAGs could be a very useful tool for non-EU counterparts as well, so they could learn about the EU DAGs' work and the way we operate.

Finally, the EU DAG presidencies decided, with the help of the EESC DAG secretariat, to circulate the non-paper of the EU DAGs to stakeholders and to continue advancing its recommendations across all EU DAGs. Next steps: to work on consolidating the different DAGs' rules of procedure. The chairs and vice-chairs agreed to keep this format for coordination work, and brainstorming for the next #AllDAGs event, to take place before summer 2022, will start soon.