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Mai Ha Thu
Year of Publication:
Working Paper 135/2020
As an element of its "value-based trade policy" the European Union has institutionalised civil society participation in the context of its "New Generation Free Trade Agreements" less than ten years ago. In all recent trade agreements with partner countries, the EU includes a chapter on Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) containing provisions to protect and promote international labour and environmental standards. The labour provisions require compliance with the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and other frameworks. There are procedural commitments in the chapter that allow for a monitoring of the sustainability impacts of the free trade agreements (FTA). Its institutional mechanisms include the formatin of Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs) on both sides, and a Joint Civil Society Forum (CSF) for an annual exchange and dialogue between the two DAGs and other civil society representatives on the sustainable development aspects of trade relations between the Parties. The purpose of this mechanism is to politically and publicly support the FTA, monitor the TSD Chapter implementation, provide a forum for democratic dialogue and develop recommendations on how to implement the commitments. However, based on current research on this topic, feedback from civil society stakeholders and own experiences in South Korea and Vietnam, we come to the conclusion that the "value based trade policies" by means of TSD Chapters have not yet produced significant results both in terms of improving labour standards and/or enabling civil society to participate in the monitoring of the agreement. The European Commission has acknowledged these deficiencies in 2018 and pledged to work for clear, transparent rules and procedures for the establishment and functoning of representative and balanced civil society structures on the side of the trade partners. But this may not solve the structural and political difficulties when two partners do not share the same political values but formulate human rights and labour standards as part of their trade agreement. A more stringent role for the EU not only before ratification, but also in the implementation phase is necessary, and the European Parliament should play a proactive role here. Overall, the authors are of the opinion, that in a political environment where trading partners have authoritarian political systems and do not share the same political values with the EU, only ex-ante conditionality could safeguard civil society participation and labour rights compliance in trade agreements. But this will require far-reaching changes in the legal text of the TSD Chapter.
EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement
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