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25th May 2019

EU wants promises on labour, environment in US trade pact

  • Malmstroem said new clauses would prevent "race to the bottom" on workers' rights (Photo: European Commission)

The EU has proposed to the US that there should be a chapter on labour rights and environmental protection in their free trade agreement, the European Commission announced Friday (6 November).

The EU presented its proposal to the Americans during the most recent round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), held from 19 to 23 October 2015 in Miami, trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said in a press conference.

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  • Banner announcing anti-TTIP in Munich. Many parts of civil society fear that the pact will lower environmental standards and labour rights (Photo: Peter Teffer)

“The proposal … would make sure that we uphold the highest standards of labour and environmental protection back home," said the Swedish commissioner.

“It also rules out a race to the bottom. Both sides would commit not to relax our labour and environmental protection laws as a means to attract trade and investments."

The European negotiators explained the proposed chapter of the treaty on Trade and Sustainable Development during three days of discussions, according to the EU's report on the 11th round of talks, also published Friday.

Such a chapter, the report noted, would cover “environmentally sound management of chemicals and waste to minimise adverse effects on human health and the environment, encouraging the development of fair and ethical trade schemes, opportunities for joint initiatives in third countries to further labour rights and environmental protection.”

Malmstroem said the proposal did not cover enforcement yet, because she first wants the two sides to agree on substance.

“We have deliberately not yet addressed the issue of how those commitments would be implemented and enforced," she said.

“Clearly we do need an effective system of international oversight, participation and monitoring by civil society and enforcement that gives these commitments teeth. But we want to work step by step.”

ISDS

Ever since the EU and US started their behind-closed-doors negotiations on TTIP in July 2013, the treaty has come under fire by many parts of civil society, who fear the agreement will lower environmental standards and labour rights.

It has also suffered from severe reputational damage because of a proposed dispute settlement system called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).

The ISDS, campaigners say, will help multinational firms to destroy EU states' laws if they harm commercial interests.

The EU has since proposed setting up a new investment court, which would be a more independent alternative to ISDS.

However, the Commission has not yet finalised the text for submission to the Americans.

Negotiators appear to be waiting for this formal proposal, since, during the October talks, investment protection and resolution of investment disputes were the only topics not discussed.

They did discuss a whole range of other issues.

For example, the EU side stressed brand names like Champagne, Chianti, Port, should only be used by European producers. It also said European small and medium-sized enterprises should be given more information about US government procurement opportunities.

The next, or 12th, round of talks is expected to take place early 2016.

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