Letter on TSD chapters

Dear Mr Lange, dear Members of the International Trade Committee,

The public debate around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations and the ratification of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), has made it clear that a new approach is needed for “Trade and Sustainable Development” (TSD) chapters contained in EU Free Trade Agreements: These cornerstone chapters need to deliver concrete impacts. EU trade policy must ensure that it does not harm but instead supports and protects human, social and labour rights, the environment and the animals.

As a response to the strong debates in the European Parliament and growing concern of civil society, DG Trade’s non-paper[1] presented only two opposite options:

  • the EU’s current approach with some minor improvements;
  • the approach adopted by the US and Canada which is based on sanctions and has not been successfully applied yet.

The non-paper ended with four questions, opening an informal consultation, which led to a report outlining fifteen options published in February 2018[2].

Although the promotion of sustainable development is at the heart of the EU’s “Trade for All” strategy, the debate around TSD chapters has been dreadfully slow and terribly opaque: contributions have not been published and no timeline has been established for a proper reform of the chapters, which needs to be supported by all institutional actors. The Commission’s weak proposals are a long way from resolving the ongoing debate: they do not go far enough, and will not significantly improve TSD chapters’ enforcement. Therefore, we, as civil society actors, consider the debate far from over.

The Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (JEEPA), has been confirmed by the Council on 22 May 2018 and compared to CETA, contains no concrete progress regarding the enforcement of the “Trade and Sustainable Development” chapters: provisions remain vague and cannot be properly monitored and enforced, the only possibility in case of commitment violations is still to call for a panel of experts to produce a report on the matter. There are still neither mechanism nor clear procedural rights for stakeholders other than the Parties to call for a panel, no detailed method to assess the status of each parties’ commitments, and more importantly there is still no explicit mention of last-resort sanctions.

This contradicts the red lines established by the European Parliament in the framework of the TTIP negotiations[3] and fails to recognize the finding made by the European Court of Justice in its Opinion 2/15 that conditionality applies to Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters[4].

Considering the lack of progress in reforming TSD chaptersin EU Free Trade Agreements, we call on the European Parliament to suspend the ratification of JEEPA until further progress on TSD enforcement is achieved and included in the agreement. The level of the debate on this crucial matter must be steppedup: the reform of TSD chapters must finally be granted the attention and resources it deserves. We would like to thank you in advance for taking this dossier seriously and look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours sincerely,

[1] European Commission, Non-paper on Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters in EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), 11 July 2017 

[2] European Commission, Feedback and way forward on improving the implementation and enforcement of Trade and Sustainable Development chapters in EU Free Trade Agreements, 26 February 2018

[3] [The European Parliament] addresses, in the context of the ongoing negotiations on TTIP, the following recommendations to the Commission: (...) to ensure that the sustainable development chapter is binding and enforceable and aims at the full and effective ratification, implementation and enforcement of the eight fundamental International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and their content, the ILO's Decent Work Agenda and the core international environmental agreements (European Parliament – 2014/2228 (INI))

[4] Court of Justice of the European Union, Opinion 2/15: Opinion of the Court (Full Court) of 16 May 2017 – European Commission (2017) C 239/03, §161

Letter on TSD chapters (pdf)