The Guest Blog

Guest post by Dr. Laurens Ankersmit, ClientEarth trade lawyer


On the website promoting the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA), the Canadian government proudly lists the ‘opportunities and benefits of CETA for Canada’s oil and gas exporters’. However, provisions on combatting climate change are completely absent from this ‘progressive’ agreement. It was one of the main criticisms of a recent report commissioned by French president Macron on CETA.

This is a perfect example of current EU trade policy: a single-minded focus on trade liberalisation and empowering transnational corporations, without considering the downsides of globalisation.

EU trade policy needs a much stronger focus on the regulation of trade in the public interest and they can do this in three ways.

First, the EU should ensure that we keep our hands clean when we allow products on our market. Oil from dirty tar sands, unsustainably produced biofuels and palm oil must not be allowed to compete with more sustainable solutions. The EU should take regulatory action to keep dirty products off our market.

Second, environmental, social and human rights commitments in trade agreements should genuinely add value and not simply be window dressing for the sake of a ‘green’ or ‘responsible’ image. So far, sustainable development and environment chapters in agreements like CETA have been little more than hot air.

Not only is this a missed opportunity were the EU loses all of its economic bargaining power, but it will also put pressure on the EU’s own levels of protection, as well as the environment and workers elsewhere. Trading in this way will create an economic incentive to produce goods where the levels of protection are the lowest.


Instead, the EU should strengthen international environmental rules by making significant environmental commitments. The EU should also ensure that trade partners sign up to a core list of international environmental agreements before any trade deal is signed. In other words, trade deals must not be unconditional.

And lastly, these commitments must be properly enforced. An easy way to do this is by establishing a formal complaints mechanism. This would give NGOs, trade unions and individuals a way to formally lodge complaints and ensure that they are taken seriously. A complaint could result in the EU suspending trade commitments, for example reintroducing tariffs for certain goods.

A complaints mechanism already exists for business. Under the Trade Barriers Regulation, business can complain about trade barriers in other countries. Giving civil society, unions and affected individuals similar rights would balance some of the unfairness between business interests and others in current EU trade policy.

It will also ensure a greater commitment by the EU to monitor and enforce compliance with social and environmental duties in trade agreements.

Perhaps even more importantly, it would ensure accountability and transparency of the Commission in handling such complaints. Complaints about severe labour and human rights violations in Korea and violations of environmental commitments in Peru, for example, could no longer be ignored and would require proper action from the Commission.

EU trade policy should be inspired by the EU’s own goals and ambitions. The EU is about more than just trade and should be proud of its regulatory achievements, like the EU’s flagship chemicals regulation, REACH.

Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said “trade is about exporting our standards, be they social or environmental standards, data protection or food safety requirements”. If Mr Juncker is serious about these words, trade policy cannot continue with business as usual.



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