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Sustainable development

Trade and environment

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 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:

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 provisions on Trade and Sustainable Development. These include adherence to key international labour and environment standards and agreements, the prudent use of natural resources such as timber and fish, and the promotion of practices favouring sustainable development such as Corporate Social Responsibility.
  • In order that these provisions are effectively implemented the EU regularly meets those partner countries with which it has concluded agreements. Such meetings under the EU-Korea trade agreement began in July 2012. The outcome of the meetings in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 demonstrates that the provisions are having a positive impact to promote sustainable development.
    The first meeting to monitor the TSD provisions of the EU-Colombia/Peru agreement was held in Lima in February 2014. In 2014 meetings will also be held for the first time to monitor the provisions under the EU-Central America agreement.
  • The close involvement of civil society is central to the successful implementation of the provisions, helping to identify issues and future areas of action. Civil Society advisory groups include environment, labour, and business organisations. There are also regular opportunities for civil society in the EU and our partner countries to meet jointly to discuss issues.
  • 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.

Other unilateral initiatives include the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact, launched in July 2013 to improve labour rights and occupational safety and health in the ready-made garment sector in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy, and its 2014 follow-up meeting and progress review.

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

Sustainable development in other Commission departments
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