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Trade and Sustainable Development Issues in EU Trade Agreements

1. Academic Studies

Publication Details and Link to Full Text Synopsis

Harrison Barbu, Campling, Ebert, Martens, Marx, Orbie, Richardson, Smith, ‘Labour Standards Provisions in EU Free Trade Agreements: Reflections on the European Commission’s Reform Agenda’, World Trade Review (2018)

This article summarises the findings of multiple previous academic studies which have examined the functioning of labour provisions in TSD chapters. It then considers the European Commission’s efforts to ‘revamp’ TSD chapters. It also argues that there are various limitations with the Commission’s current proposals, and outlines how legal obligations and institutional mechanisms created by trade agreements could better be harnessed to improve working conditions and rights at work around the world.

Harrison, Barbu, Campling, Richardson, and Smith (lead author) ‘Governing Labour Standards through Free Trade Agreements: Limits of the European Union’s Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters’ Journal of Common Market Studies, (2018)

Analyses labour provisions based upon 121 interviews undertaken with key informants in three FTAs signed with the Caribbean, South Korea and Moldova. Finds that operational failings, including a lack of legal and political prioritization of TSD chapters and shortcomings in the implementation of key provisions, have hindered the impact of the FTAs upon labour standards. Also identifies significant limitations to the EU's ‘common formulation’ approach when applied to different trading partner contexts.

Marx, Axel; Brando, Nicolás; Lein, Brecht; 2017. Strengthening Labour Rights Provisions in Bilateral Trade Agreements: Making the Case for Voluntary Sustainability Standards. Global Policy 2017; Vol. 8; pp. 78 - 88

This article explores how the inclusion of existing Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) in trade agreements could potentially enhance the monitoring and enforcement of labour provisions in EU trade agreements. Based on experiences captured in a case-study on the functioning of the 2013 EU-Colombia Trade Agreement, the authors argue that linking VSS to labour provisions in trade agreements could significantly contribute to rendering these provisions more effective.

Jens Ladefoged Mortensen, Towards more effective sustainability provisions in future European trade agreements: can Europe learn from the US? Discussion paper (2017)

Paper compares the US and EU models and finds that in practice and on paper, there is no clear divide between a “hard” American model and a “soft”, dialogue-based European model. The paper also finds that there is untapped potential in the existing EU-model to promote social rights through a modernisation of the current form of sanctions and incentive-based trade agreement model.

Orbie, Martens, Oehri, and Van den Putte ‘Promoting Sustainable Development or Legitimising Free Trade? Civil Society Mechanisms in EU Trade Agreements’, Third World Thematics, 1(4) (2016)

This study critically reflects on the involvement of civil society actors in the sustainable development chapters of recent EU trade agreements. It discusses how civil society mechanisms may legitimise the underlying neoliberal orientation of the agreements through co-optation of critical actors.

Orbie, Martens, and Van den Putte, Civil Society Meetings in European Union Trade, Agreements: Features, Purposes, and Evaluation, CLEER Papers (2016/3)

Address three basic questions about civil society meetings in relation to TSD chapters: (1) what do they look like (features), (2) what are they for (purposes), and (3) how can we evaluate them (assessment)? Express some critical concerns on the (so far) limited role of the civil society meetings, while also indicating that it would be too early to dismiss their potential relevance in the future.

Vogt, ‘The Evolution of Labor Rights and Trade − A Transatlantic Comparison and Lessons for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’, Journal of International Economic Law, 18(4) (2015): 827–860 (Restricted access).

This article surveys the differing approaches of the US and the EU on trade and labor linkage and evaluates the extent to which either model has had a meaningful impact on the protection of workers’ rights in the territory of their trade partners. It finds that pre-ratification leverage has resulted in legislative reforms, particularly as demanded by the US, though post-ratification efforts have been much less successful. The article identifies the possible reasons therefore and concludes with recommendations to overcome these weaknesses in the context of the US-EU bilateral trade agreement negotiations for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

2. Studies by EU Institutions and National Governments

Institution Publication Details and Link to Full Text Synopsis
European Economic and Social Committee

Trade and sustainable development chapters in EU Free Trade agreements

This Opinion encourages the Commission to strengthen its dialogue with civil society to develop the functioning of TSD chapters in current and future trade agreements. It also urges the Commission to be more ambitious in its approach, in particular with respect to strengthening effective enforceability of the commitments in TSD chapters. TSD chapters must be given equal weight to those covering commercial, technical or tariff issues.
European Commission Non paper of the Commission services - Feedback and way forward on improving the implementation and enforcement of Trade and Sustainable Development chapters in EU Free Trade Agreements (2018) Sets out 15 actions to be taken by the Commission to revamp TSD chapters in EU trade agreements.

3. Studies by Trade Partner Institutions and National Governments

Institution Publication Details and Link to Full Text Synopsis

4. Studies by International Organisations

Organisation Publication Details and Link to Full Text Synopsis

International Labour Organisation

Assessment of Labour Provisions in Trade and Investment Agreements (2016)

The report provides an analysis of the design, implementation and outcomes of labour provisions in unilateral, bilateral and plurilateral trade arrangements, including EU FTAs. It uses this analysis to gain a better understanding of whether and how labour provisions strengthen the framework conditions for decent work under which enterprises and workers operate, including through the involvement of the social partners and the wider public. It also consider the ILO’s own work on trade arrangements.

5. Studies by Civil Society Organisations and Thinktanks

Author Organisation(s) Publication Details and Link to Full Text Synopsis


EU Mercosur trade deal will intensify the climate crisis from agriculture (2019)

The report calculates that the direct impact of the FTA will be a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from eight farm products of 8.7 million tonnes per year.

Eurogroup for Animals, Transport & Environment, Fern and Humane Society International

From CETA to JEEPA – The variations in the “Trade and Sustainable Development” Provisions in EU Free Trade Agreements

Compares the various provisions included in the different FTAs, and analyses whether an increase in protection and legal provisions over time could be found. It concludes this is not the case.

In collaboration with PowerShift et al

Legitimising an Unsustainable Approach to Trade: A discussion paper on sustainable development provisions in EU Free Trade Agreements (2018)

This discussion paper looks at the pitfalls of piecemeal attempts to attach “model” TSD provisions to FTAs.


Forests and forest people in EU Free Trade Agreements (2018)

This report lists the main commitments the EU has made to mitigate climate change, protect forests and respect human rights It also highlights the risk that these EU commitments are being undermined and gives recommendations for how to improve participation, monitoring and enforcement of the commitments that have been made. It proposes measures that would ensure that all trade agreements with highly forested countries do not contribute to deforestation and ensure respect for human rights, including customary tenure rights

Eurogroup for Animals

Animal Welfare, Trade and Sustainable Development (2018)

This report presents Eurogroup for Animals’ position on the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters contained in EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), and their
enforcement mechanisms. It reacts to the fifteen proposals published in February 2018 by EU’s Directorate-General for Trade (DG Trade), following a non-official consultation with
Member States, the European Parliament and Civil Society Organisations started in July 2017.

The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions

More effective provisions on workers' rights in future trade agreements (2017)

Present proposals for what it would take to create 'more efficient provisions' on workers' rights in future trade agreements.

Transport & Environment

Trade and Sustainable Development: A chance for innovative thinking (2017)

Makes suggestions for reforms in how EU trade agreements deals with the environment – not only in the sustainable development chapter, but also throughout the agreement.

6. Studies and Statements by Private Sector Organisations

Author Organisation(s) Publication Details and Link to Full Text Synopsis
Business Europe Position Paper on Trade and Sustainable Development chapters in EU FTAs (2017) Argues for a focus on how to better encourage and
promote implementation of existing sustainability provisions in EU FTAs.
European Services Forum, EuroCommerce, The Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry (FESI), The Foreign Trade Association Joint Statement on Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters: Support for a More Assertive Partnership (18 October 2017) Statement made in relation to the Commission's consultation on the future of TSD chapters. Argues in support of the Commission's position for a “ more assertive partnership on TSD” with partner countries, rather than enhancing the enforceability of TSD chapters