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Procedure : 2009/2219(INI)
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Thursday, 25 November 2010 - Strasbourg
Human rights, social and environmental standards in International Trade agreements

European Parliament resolution of 25 November 2010 on human rights and social and environmental standards in international trade agreements (2009/2219(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Articles 2, 3, 6 and 21 of the Treaty on European Union,

–  having regard to Articles 153, 191, 207 and 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Articles 12, 21, 28, 29, 31 and 32 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–  having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and other United Nations instruments in the field of human rights, in particular the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) and the outcome document of the United Nations Millennium Summit September 20-22, 2010 in New York,

–  having regard to the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Declaration adopted at the fourth ministerial conference held in November 2001 in Doha, in particular paragraph 31,

–  having regard to its resolution of 20 September 1996 on the Commission communication on the inclusion of respect for democratic principles and human rights in agreements between the Community and third countries(COM(1995)0216)(1) and its resolution of 14 February 2006 on the human rights and democracy clause in European Union agreements(2),

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 October 2001 on openness and democracy in international trade(3) calling for the WTO to respect the fundamental social standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the EU's acceptance of the ILO's decisions, including any calls for sanctions in connection with serious breaches of fundamental social standards,

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 April 2002 on the Commission communication to the Council and the European Parliament on the European Union's role in promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries (COM(2001)0252)(4),

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘The Social Dimension of Globalisation - the EU's policy contribution on extending the benefits to all’ (COM(2004)0383),

–  having regard to its resolution of 15 November 2005 on the social dimension of globalisation(5),

–  having regard to its resolution of 5 July 2005 on the exploitation of children in developing countries, with a special focus on child labour(6),

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 14 June 2010 on child labour(7),

–  having regard to its resolution of 6 July 2006 on fair trade and development(8),

–  having regard to its resolution of 22 May 2007 on ‘Global Europe: external aspects of competitiveness’(9) in response to the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament entitled ‘Global Europe: Competing in the World. A contribution to the EU's Growth and Jobs Strategy’ (COM(2006)0567),

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘Promoting decent work for all – the EU contribution to the implementation of the decent work agenda in the world’ (COM(2006)0249),

–  having regard to the 2006 Ministerial Declaration of the UN Economic and Social Council on Full Employment and Decent Work, recognising full and productive employment and decent work for all as a key element of sustainable development,

–  having regard to its resolution of 23 May 2007 on promoting decent work for all(10), calling for the promotion of decent work through inclusion of social standards in EU trade agreements, particularly bilateral agreements,

–  having regard to the ILO's Decent Work Agenda and Global Jobs Pact, adopted by a worldwide consensus on 19 June 2009 at the International Labour Conference, and the 2008 ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation,

–  having regard to the Brussels Convention of 1968, as consolidated by Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters(11),

–  having regard to the generalised system of preferences (GSP), in force since 1 January 2006, which grants duty-free access or a tariff reduction for an increased number of products and also includes a new incentive for vulnerable countries faced with specific trade, financial or development needs,

–  having regard to all of the agreements between the European Union and non-member States,

–  having regard to the Partnership Agreement between the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), and the European Union, signed in Cotonou on 23 June 2000, and its revisions in 2005 and 2010,

–  having regard to its resolutions on economic partnership agreements with ACP regions and countries, and particularly those of 26 September 2002(12), 23 May 2007(13) and 12 December 2007(14),

–  having regard to the international agreements on the environment, such as the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987), the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes (1989), the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000) and the Kyoto Protocol (1997),

–  having regard to Chapter 13 of the free trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea, signed in October 2009,

–  having regard to the conclusion of the negotiations between the EU, Colombia and Peru on signature of a Multi-Party Trade Agreement,

–  having regard to the hearing on ‘Application of Social and Environmental Standards in Trade Negotiations’ which Parliament held on 14 January 2010,

–  having regard to Rule 48 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on International Trade and the opinions of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Development, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (A7-0312/2010),

A.  whereas the link between trade, human rights and social and environmental standards has become a key part of economic and trade relations and is integral to negotiations on free trade agreements,

B.  whereas distortions of competition and the risks of environmental and social dumping are becoming more and more frequent, to the detriment in particular of undertakings and workers in Europe who are required to comply with more stringent social, environmental and fiscal standards,

C.  whereas, in its relations with third countries, the EU must adopt a trade strategy that is based on reciprocity, but which must be differentiated in accordance with its partners' level of development, as regards both its social and environmental demands and trade liberalisation, to create the conditions for just and fair international competition,

D.  whereas bilateral fora have become the main platform for pursuing these political objectives, so much so that the prospects for establishing multilateral rules governing relations between trade, labour or the environment within the WTO framework are not very promising,

E.  whereas, nonetheless, it is essential to try to find a new balance between trade law and fundamental rights and to step up the dialogue between the main international organisations, particularly between the ILO and the WTO, with a view to greater coherence of international policies and better world governance,

F.  whereas there are many reasons for including provisions on human rights and social and environmental standards in international trade agreements, from the wish to establish fair and equitable trade and a level playing field to the more prescriptive approach of upholding the universal values supported by the EU and pursuing consistent European policies,

G.  recalls that the 1986 UN Declaration of the Right to Development confirms that ‘the right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social and cultural development’; considers, therefore, that the EU has an obligation not to undermine this right and, indeed, to incorporate it into international agreements and use it as a guideline for European policies,

H.  whereas the Lisbon Treaty reaffirms that the European Union's external action, of which trade is an integral part, should be guided by the same principles as those which inspired its creation; whereas the European social model, which combines sustainable economic growth with better working and living conditions, can also serve as a model for other partners; whereas trade agreements must also be compatible with other obligations and international agreements which the parties have entered into, in line with their national laws,

I.  whereas it is important to preserve the level of social and environmental standards in force in the European Union, and ensure that they are respected by foreign undertakings operating in the single European market,

J.  whereas including human rights and social and environmental standards in trade agreements can add value to such agreements, allowing more civil society interaction and greater support for political and social stability, thus establishing a climate which is more conducive to trade,

K.  whereas the trade sector and the protection of human rights, social and environmental standards are important aspects in guaranteeing peace and prosperity in the world, but they cannot be called upon as a solution to all the problems which occur between states; whereas, however, that deadlock in political situations can be overcome by strengthening trade relations, thereby ensuring the definition of common interests, notably in the field of environmental protection, as a way to settle conflicts,

L.  whereas other countries have set positive examples for including social standards in trade agreements,

M.  whereas the generalised system of preferences is conditioned in the respect of the principles of international human rights conventions and core labour standards by beneficiary countries, and includes a special scheme of supplementary tariff preferences to promote the ratification and effective implementation of core international conventions on human and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance; whereas failure to comply with the conditions can lead to the trading arrangement being suspended,

1.  Calls, therefore, for the European Union's future trade strategy not to envisage trade as an end in itself, but as a tool for the promotion of European values and commercial interests and as an instrument for fair trade that can bring into general practice the effective inclusion and implementation of social and environmental standards with all EU trade partners; considers that the EU should adopt an approach in its negotiations which is positive, yet also legally binding; underlines that including provisions on sustainable development, particularly in bilateral agreements, will benefit all parties;

2.  Recalls that the common commercial policy is an instrument in the service of the European Union's overall objectives, and that, pursuant to Article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EU's common commercial policy must be conducted ‘in the context of the principles and objectives of the Union's external action’, and that, pursuant to Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union, it must contribute, in particular, ‘to the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular the rights of the child, as well as to the strict observance and the development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter’;

Human rights and social and environmental standards in multilateral trade relations

3.  Encourages greater cooperation at multinational level between the WTO and the main United Nations institutions in the human rights field; considers that closer links with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and with the special procedures would be particularly useful to provide a multilateral trade framework which would enhance respect for human rights; considers, similarly, that the High Commission's expertise could be taken into account within WTO panels and the appeals body when cases of serious breaches of human rights are observed;

4.  Considers that the Human Rights Council's universal periodic review should be a useful tool to monitor compliance with human rights provisions in international trade agreements;

5.  Underlines that closer cooperation with the ILO, the body responsible for establishing and negotiating international labour standards and supervising their application in law and in practice, and full participation of the ILO in the work of the WTO, are essential;

   (a) to this end calls for the ILO to be granted official observer status in the WTO and the right to speak at WTO ministerial conferences;
   (b) proposes setting up a committee on trade and decent work within the WTO, on the lines of the Committee on Trade and Environment; and insists that both committees are given a clearly defined remit, and have tangible influence;
   (c) proposes that relevant cases where a breach of international labour conventions is involved in a trade dispute could be referred to the ILO as well as to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights;
   (d) proposes that, when a WTO member state considers that a decision by the dispute settlement body calls into question ILO decisions on compliance with labour conventions, there should be an appeal route to the ILO;

6.  Reaffirms that the objectives of maintaining and preserving an open and non-discriminatory multilateral trade system on the one hand, and protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development on the other hand, should be mutually supportive; underlines that, pursuant to Article 20 of the GATT, the Member States may adopt trade measures to protect the environment, subject to the requirement that such measures are not applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination; encourages the Member States to make full use of this provision;

7.  Welcomes the existence of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment, which should be an essential forum for pursuing integration and strengthening the link between the environment and trade; expresses the hope that the Committee's role and its work will develop in order to address in a positive manner the most important trade and environment challenges facing the international community;

8.  Underlines the importance of improving access to green goods and technologies to achieve sustainable development objectives, and encourages all the parties to the negotiations to redouble their efforts to reach a rapid conclusion to the negotiations on reducing or removing tariff and non-tariff barriers for environmental goods and services, in order to promote new forms of employment policies and the creation of jobs meeting ILO decent work standards and growth opportunities for European industries and SMEs;

9.  Underlines the need to make progress in the negotiations on the other points at Article 31 of the Doha Declaration concerning the relationship between existing WTO rules and specific trade obligations set out in multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), and to promote closer cooperation between the MEA secretariats and the WTO committees, a key factor in ensuring that trade and environmental regimes develop coherently;

10.  Considers that a multilateral climate agreement would be the best instrument for internalising negative external environmental factors relating to CO2, but that there is a risk that such an agreement will not be concluded in the near future; takes the view, therefore, that the EU should continue to look into the possibility of putting in place, for those industries that are actually exposed to carbon leakage, appropriate environmental instruments in addition to the auctioning of CO2 quotas under the EU's emissions trading scheme, in particular a ‘carbon inclusion mechanism’ that complies with WTO rules, as such a mechanism would make it possible to combat the risk of CO2 emissions being transferred to third countries;

11.  Proposes, once the international agreement on the climate has been negotiated and signed, that a genuine World Environmental Organisation be set up to enforce application of the commitments that will have been made, and to ensure compliance with environmental standards; points out that it would, for example, be obligatory to refer cases of environmental dumping to this future organisation;

Human rights and social and environmental standards in bilateral trade agreements

12.  Firmly supports the practice of including legally binding human rights clauses in the EU's international agreements, but points out that major challenges persist with regard to monitoring and implementing these clauses; reaffirms that these clauses must also be included in all trade and sectoral agreements, with a clear and precise consultation mechanism modelled on Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement; in this respect welcomes the inclusion of such a clause in the ‘new-generation’ free trade agreements;

13.  Underlines the fact that the same approach of systematic inclusion should also be applied to the chapters on sustainable development in bilateral agreements;

14.  Notes that future trade agreements may be concluded against the background of the current financial crisis; considers that this must not mean neglecting social and environmental standards, particularly on greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous waste management, in order to achieve other goals;

15.  Taking into account the objectives cited above, calls on the Commission to include systematically in all free trade agreements negotiated with non-EU countries a series of social and environmental standards that include:

   (a) a list of minimum standards that must be respected by all the EU's trading partners; from a social viewpoint, these standards must correspond to the ILO's eight Core Labour Standards as listed in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Rights and Principles (1998); in addition to these eight Core Standards, there are the four ILO Priority Conventions for the industrialised countries; with regard to the environment and respect for human rights, the minimum standard must correspond to the list of conventions on the environment and the principles of good governance as set out in the European regulation on the scheme of generalised tariff preferences;
   (b) a list of other conventions that should be implemented gradually and flexibly, taking account of developments in the economic, social and environmental situation of the partner concerned; from a social viewpoint, the ultimate objective must be geared to full implementation of the ILO's Decent Work Agenda;

16.  Stresses that respect for these standards must be understood to include their ratification, their incorporation into national law and their effective implementation throughout the country's territory;

17.  Demands that all future trade agreements provide for a ban on the exploitation of child labour, in particular in the extraction and processing of natural stone, and include a uniform European certification system which ensures that imported natural stone and natural stone products have been demonstrably produced along the entire value chain without the exploitation of child labour within the meaning of ILO Convention 182;

18.  Underlines that in the context of free trade agreements, conditional liberalisations, including shortening the timetable for abolishing restrictions or access to an additional market, could be envisaged when environmental and social standards are complied with;

19.  Underlines the importance of constant monitoring of implementation of the agreement, with an open and inclusive approach at all phases:

   (a) notes the use of impact studies on sustainable development but considers that they should also be carried out before, during and after the negotiations, to ensure continuing evaluation; also points out the importance of acting in full on their results; also considers that the negotiators should take more account of the priorities and concerns that emerge from these impact studies;
   (b) asks the Commission to carry out impact studies on human rights in addition to those on sustainable development, with comprehensible trade indicators based on human rights and on environmental and social standards;
   (c) calls on both parties to submit regular reports on the general progress of implementation of all the commitments made under the agreement;
   (d) asks the Commission to ensure that partner countries' parliaments are involved in trade negotiations, with a view to enhancing governance and democratic scrutiny in developing countries;
   (e) underlines the importance of public involvement at all stages of the negotiations and follow-up to the agreement, and to this end calls for sustainable development fora or advisory groups to be set up to allow the social partners and representatives of independent civil society to be consulted;

20.  Calls for EU trade agreements effectively to provide for the highest levels of transparency, stringent public procurement standards and country-by-country reporting by businesses in both developed and developing countries, with a view to combating illicit capital flight;

21.  Urges the Union to assert the right of access to natural resources in negotiations of trade agreements and the rights of native and indigenous peoples with regard to access to essential natural resources; calls on the Commission to incorporate the problem of the purchase and ownership of land in third countries, in particular in the least-developed and developing countries, into international trade negotiations and agreements;

22.  Recognises that the chapter on sustainable development in the bilateral agreements currently under negotiation is binding but could be strengthened by providing for:

   (a) a complaints procedure open to the social partners,
   (b) appeals to an independent body to settle disputes relating to social and environmental problems speedily and effectively, such as panels of experts selected by both parties on the basis of their expertise in human rights, labour law and environmental law, and whose recommendations would have to form part of a well-defined process, with implementing provisions,
   (c) recourse to a dispute settlement mechanism on an equal footing with the other parts of the agreement, with provision for fines to improve the situation in the sectors concerned, or at least a temporary suspension of certain trade benefits provided for under the agreement, in the event of an aggravated breach of these standards;

23.  Underlines the importance of adding accompanying measures to these agreements, including technical assistance measures and cooperation programmes, aiming to improve implementation capacity, in particular of the fundamental conventions in the area of human rights and social and environmental standards;

Human rights and social and environmental standards in unilateral trade relations: GSP and GSP+

24.  Considers that the 27 conventions for which ratification and effective implementation are requested so that they can benefit from GSP+ represent a unique mixture of conventions on human rights, labour law, environment and good governance standards; underlines that to date, GSP+ has had a positive and visible impact with regard to ratification of these conventions, but less so with regard to their implementation, and therefore hopes to place more emphasis on accompanying measures to improve implementation capacity; also considers that, to ensure the credibility of GSP+, the Commission must launch investigations if consistent evidence indicates that some countries are not implementing the 27 conventions, and where appropriate withdraw the preferences;

25.  Considers that a closer link could be established between human rights clauses and GSP+ in European Union agreements with non-member states, particularly with regard to monitoring;

26.  Encourages the Commission, during the process of reviewing the GSP system, to ensure that the countries that benefit from it most are those that are most in need, and to simplify the rules of origin so that countries that benefit from the Everything But Arms initiative and the GSP+ system may derive maximum benefit from the preferences granted; calls for the establishment of points of comparison, mechanisms and transparent criteria for granting and withdrawing preferences under this system; also calls for the full participation of the European Parliament throughout this process, particularly with regard to the Council proposal on the lists of beneficiary countries, the launch of investigations and the temporary suspension of GSP+;

27.  Urges the Commission to swiftly table a proposal for a regulation banning the import into the EU of goods produced using modern forms of slavery, forced labour, especially forced labour of particularly vulnerable groups, in violation of basic human rights standards;

28.  Calls on the Commission, in accordance with the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission, to provide Parliament at all times with comprehensive information on all relevant topics during negotiations on international trade agreements;

29.  Calls on the Commission, in the light of Parliament's extended powers under the Lisbon Treaty, to guarantee the efficient flow of information and to accord Parliament, in the persons of its delegates, observer status, and thus access to all relevant meetings and documents, at all times;

o   o

30.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission, and to the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

(1) OJ C 320, 28.10.1996, p. 261.
(2) OJ C 290 E, 29.11.2006, p. 107.
(3) OJ C 112 E, 9.5.2002, p. 326.
(4) OJ C 131 E, 5.6.2003. p. 147.
(5) OJ C 280 E, 18.11.2006, p. 65.
(6) OJ C 157 E, 6.7.2006, p.84.
(7) Council conclusions of 14.6.2010 on child labour, 10937/1/10.
(8) OJ C 303 E, 13.12.2006, p. 865.
(9) OJ C 102 E, 24.4.2008, p. 128.
(10) OJ C 102 E, 24.4.2008, p. 321.
(11) OJ L 12, 16.1.2001, p. 1.
(12) OJ C 273 E, 14.11.2003, p. 305.
(13) OJ C 102 E, 24.4.2008, p. 301.
(14) OJ C 323 E, 18.12.2008, p. 361.

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