European Interest

Trade agreements that respect environmental, labour and human rights

"Strengthening labour and environmental standards is an important step to ensure that workers and the environment benefit from closer ties between countries," said Rapporteur Bernd Lange.

Parliament wants to introduce sanctions as the last resort for EU trade partners in breach of labour and environmental standards.

In a resolution adopted on Thursday by show of hands, Parliament emphasises that EU’s free trade agreements must contribute to a carbon-neutral economy by prioritizing trade in goods and services provided through sustainable practices while respecting human rights.

They therefore welcome a review of the trade and sustainable development (TSD) chapters of trade agreements that lay out the environmental, labour and human rights commitments the EU and its trade partner undertake. The Commission proposes to use trade sanctions as the recourse of last resort against instances of serious violations of these commitments – something Parliament has been demanding for years.

Apply to all existing trade agreements

While the Commission proposes the application of the new TSD rules only to future and ongoing trade negotiations (as for example with Australia, India) “as appropriate”, the Parliament would extend them to all existing trade agreements, including to those the signature of which is pending.

Finally, MEPs say that free trade agreements must also ensure access to raw materials and energy goods essential for a green economy.

“The European Parliament is shaping the content and direction of Europe’s trade policy. We upgrade labour and environmental provisions and the role of civil society actors who we place them firmly into the centre of our agreements. Strengthening labour and environmental standards is an important step to ensure that workers and the environment benefit from closer ties between countries,” said Rapporteur Bernd Lange (S&D, DE), the chair of the Trade Committee, whose Wednesday plenary speech is available here.

“This paradigm shift is already reflected in the EU-New Zealand deal, and we expect all future agreements put forward for our consent to reflect this new European approach to trade and sustainability”, he concluded.

All EU’s modern trade agreements include chapters on trade and sustainable development, with a broad set of mutually agreed commitments on environment, labour and human rights. The clauses require, among others, continuous effort to ratify fundamental labour conventions and multilateral environmental agreements such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

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