The EU wants its trade policy to support economic growth, social development, and environmental protection. Coherence and mutual supportiveness among these three elements are the basis for achieving sustainable development.
Sustainable development in a nutshell
- Mainstreaming sustainability with its economic, social and environmental dimension in all relevant policies is a basic objective set out in the Treaty on the European Union, both as regards the EU's internal policies and external action.
- Trade policies and agreements can have wide-ranging effects on the economy, employment, labour standards, social cohesion, and the environment, including policy development and regulatory aspects. Thus, the EU wants to ensure that its trade actions are supportive of sustainable development within the EU, in our partner countries, and globally.
- Respect for fundamental workers' rights and for environmental protection requirements should be ensured in a context of trade and economic expansion: the jobs created by open trade shall reflect international core labour standards, and increased trade flows shall help the rapid spread of green goods, services and technologies around the world and the shift to a low-carbon economy.
EU trade policy and sustainable development
At global level:
- As a WTO member, the EU is actively involved in the work of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment and actively promotes in the Doha Round of WTO trade talks liberalisation of goods and services which can deliver environmental benefits.
- The EU works closely with the International Labour Organisation to integrate labour considerations into its trade policy and to support the ILO's work.
At bilateral level, the EU aims for its trade agreements, with both industrialised and developing countries, to include provisions devoted to sustainable development aspects of importance in a trade context:
- All bilateral trade agreements recently concluded by the EU (e.g. South Korea, Central America, Colombia and Peru, Singapore) contain a chapter on Trade and Sustainable Development. These chapters provide for adherence to key international labour and environment standards and agreements, the prudent use of natural resources such as timber and fish, the promotion of practices favouring sustainable development such as Corporate Social Responsibility, and the set-up of mechanisms for wider civil society involvement.
- In its bilateral trade agreements the EU also pursues early liberalisation of environmental goods and services and facilitation of trade and investment in renewable energy generation, contributing to environmental and climate policy goals.
The EU also carefully examines the potential effects of its trade agreements on the pursuit of economic, social and environmental goals, through Impact Assessments and Sustainability Impact Assessments.
At unilateral level, the GSP+ scheme is a flagship EU trade policy instrument to support sustainable development and good governance in developing countries, granting special tariff rate cuts to developing countries committed to core international agreements on human and labour rights, the environment, and good governance.
Furthermore, the EU promotes voluntary initiatives led by stakeholders to foster sustainable production and trade practices, such as Corporate Social Responsibility and fair and ethical trade schemes.
More on sustainable development
- 2006 renewed EU Sustainable Development Strategy guides the EU activities on sustainable development.
- 2009 Communication on Fair Trade and Non-governmental Trade-related Sustainability Assurance Schemes is the cornerstone of the EU policy on private sustainability-bound schemes.
- 2010 Communication on Trade, Growth, and World Affairs outlines the contribution of trade to inclusive and sustainable growth in the EU and abroad.
- 2011 new Commission action agenda on Corporate Social Responsibility.
- 2012 Communication on Trade, Growth, and Development highlights the specific importance of sustainable development in a development context.
- 2013 Staff Working Document on Trade and Worst Forms of Child Labour