Sustainability Clauses: Standard in Modern Trade Agreements

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In the Treaty of Lisbon the EU agreed to include the promotion of social progress and environmental protection in its external relations. What contribution can trade policy make? And how can agreements on labour, social, and environmental protections be enforced internationally?

The EU pursues those objectives in multilateral institutions like the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and the World Climate Conference. And through unilateral trade measures and bilateral free trade agreements the EU contributes, for example, to ensuring greater respect for workers’ rights and broader application of environmentally friendly technologies. Under the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences, developing countries enjoy special customs privileges for their exports to Europe if they accept and implement the central international agreements on human rights, labour rights, environmental protection, and good governance.

Unter dem Allgemeinen Präferenzsystem der EU genießen Entwicklungsländer besonders deutliche Zollvorteile für ihre Exporte nach Europa, wenn sie die zentralen internationalen Vereinbarungen zu Menschen- und Arbeitsrechten, Umweltschutz und guter Regierungsführung angenommen haben und umsetzen.

In the EU’s Bilateral Free Trade Agreements, Sustainability Chapters Have Tradition

Chapters on labour and social standards and environmental protection are already established practice in the EU’s bilateral free trade agreements. All involved agree to apply the relevant international standards and agreements, and to refrain from acquiring economic advantages by watering down labour and environmental protections. The EU’s most recent trade agreements with South Korea and Columbia/Peru have established special bilateral committees with representatives of government and civil society to ensure effective implementation and monitoring of the labour and environmental protections. The extent to which the EU should use trade agreements to force partners to accept particular international sustainability obligations is contested. Critics of EU existing trade policy also want the EU’s trade agreements to include economic sanctions as a last resort against violations relating to sustainability.