Former EU trade chief Pascal Lamy and researchers from the Europe Jacques Delors think tank slammed how Brussels approaches sustainable development through trade, in a paper published Friday.

Lots to unpack: The authors criticize green promises in EU trade deals as “too weak”; they call the dispute settlement mechanism for sustainable development chapters in EU FTAs “not effective enough”; and they ask for Brussels to revamp how it involves civil society in its trade deals. 

Problem & solution #1: “Up to date, no FTA seems to have delivered the type of integration of environmental concerns that would be [fit] for purpose,” the researchers write, saying there’s a lack of concrete climate commitments in FTAs, such as the Paris Agreement for emissions.

“The way forward is to redesign the approach to sustainable development in EU FTAs by introducing incentive mechanisms, negotiating clearer and more detailed commitments, [defining] “essential clauses” and looking beyond TSD chapters to mainstream sustainable development across the FTA,” the authors write.

Problem & solution #2: “The dispute settlement mechanisms are not effective enough,” the report says. It adds that one remedy could be to create a formal way for companies and NGOs to lodge complaints when countries don’t respect the sustainable development chapter of trade deals. 

Problem & solution #3: “The level of involvement of civil society and of information and transparency needs improving,” the paper says. To fix this, the authors suggest “a reformed method to interact with civil society on the part of the European Commission, including the enlargement of the scope of domestic advisory groups to the entirety of the trade agreements.” They also ask for more transparency (surprise, surprise) on sustainability impact assessments.

But but but: “Bilateral FTAs have only a limited potential to satisfy the EU’s ambitions to green trade,” the researchers write, echoing top EU trade civil servant Sabine Weyand’s stance.

An interesting point: The writers point out that the EU can’t only pursue sustainability through trade agreements because Brussels doesn’t have deals with its largest trading partners — think the U.S., China and Switzerland. Also, TSD chapters tend not to be included in deals with countries that have relatively weak green measures, like Syria or Uzbekistan, as these tend to be poorer nations that have access to the EU market through special trade arrangements for development.

Check out the very handy comparative table of Brussels’ trade deals and their sustainability commitments on page 6.

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