Mainstreaming sustainability challenges in EU trade agreements: from stand-alone chapters to mainstreamed sustainability

Wicked problem

Netwerk: ENLIGHT

Oxfam België

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Wat is het probleem?

For a long time, the debate on the sustainability of European Union Free Trade Agreements concentrated on the stand-alone ‘trade and sustainability’ chapter of these agreements. The critique centred around the fact that while the wording in these chapters is commendable, the promises made by the contracting parties are not binding nor enforceable. This leads to the observations that these chapters solely pay lip service to sustainability issues, effectively ‘greenwashing’ or ‘fairwashing’ the agreement as a whole. More recently, this stand-alone approach to sustainability is being strengthened with propositions to include separate chapters on sustainable food.

In the meantime, the discourse of civil society is gradually shifting towards mainstreaming sustainability concerns throughout the agreement, i.e. not limiting these elements to a separate chapter. While the enforceability of the ‘trade and sustainability’ chapters remains a contentious and much-debated topic, questions arise on whether trade agreements as a whole need a rethink. In addition, reflective questions are posed as to what extend trade policy is a good instrument for furthering the sustainability agenda.

Questions in need of answers in this regard:

  • Where lie the sustainability ‘blind spots’ in trade agreements (ecological, social, gender…)?
  • How can these blind spots be addressed?
  • How best to make contracting parties accountable to their promises?
  • What are the biggest blockers to mainstream sustainability issues in trade agreements?
  • Will a more democratic process of negotiating trade agreements lead to more sustainable results?
  • How to reinvigorate, strengthen and empower the CSO dialogue platforms?
  • How do you assess the new generation of EU trade agreements?
  • Can the EU promote its vision on sustainable development through trade agreements?
  • Is the EU asking enough from its trading partners?
  • Is international trade a friend or enemy of sustainable development?

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