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Environment and Trade and External Relations

In an effort to promote global sustainable development, the EU is taking steps to integrate environmental concerns into its external relations and trade policies. Particular emphasis is put on including environmental issues in the enlargement process, on developing stronger global co-operation on environmental issues through an enhanced United Nations system and on finding a greater balance between liberalized trade rules and multilateral environmental agreements.

The EU Strategy on Sustainable Development sets out a framework for a long-term vision of sustainability in which economic growth, social cohesion and environmental protection go hand in hand and are mutually supportive.

Launched in 2010, the EU Strategy "Europe 2020" aims at reaching a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. In this context, the EU adopted in 2010 the Communication on Trade, Growth, and World affairs that stresses that the EU trade policy should continue to "support green growth and climate change objectives" and to "support and promote green growth around the globe in other areas, such as energy, resource efficiency and biodiversity protection". The importance of trade and sustainable development for the EU is also reflected in the 2012 Communication on Trade, Growth, and Development that highlights the specific value of sustainable development in a development context.

More specifically, the EU has integrated sustainable development and environmental objectives in a number of trade instruments:

  • At the multilateral level, the EU is actively involved in the work of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment Regular Session and the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment Special Session, a negotiating committee aimed at advancing the Doha mandate (paragraph 31 of the Doha Declaration on liberalisation of environmental goods and services, and relationship between the WTO and MEAs). However, those negotiations have so far registered little progress. On 24 January 2014, the EU, together with 13 other WTO Members launched the Green Goods Initiative in the WTO context, which aims primarily to eliminate tariffs on a broad list of green goods. The ambition is to create a living agreement that would also address other barriers to trade at a later stage. The still ongoing EGA (Environmental Goods Agreement) negotiations would help in liberalisation of trade by making access to environmental goods and technologies available at a cheaper cost and benefit the environment largely by making high-quality environmental products available to all countries.
  • At the bilateral and regional level, a key element of the EU policy is the negotiation and implementation of environmental provisions, as part of Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapter in trade agreements, which include inter alia commitments to adherence to core MEAs (ratification, effective implementation in law and in practice); the pursuit of high levels of protection; the effective enforcement of and non-derogation from domestic laws in this area; specific provisions encouraging trade practices and schemes that support and promote sustainable development goals; and provisions on the sustainable management and use of natural resources (e.g. biodiversity, wildlife, forestry, etc.). The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US should also include such provisions. The EU closely follows and monitors the implementation of environmental provisions of the TSD chapters where the civil society has an important role to play. Besides negotiation and implementation of TSD provisions in FTAs, the EU ensures that environmental considerations are duly integrated in its trade policy-making process through a systematic use of impact assessments.
  • At the unilateral level, the "Generalised Scheme of Preferences" (GSP) established by the EU allows developing country exporters to pay lower duties on their exports to the EU. This gives them better access to the EU market and supports economic growth and job creation in those countries. Under the GSP, the GSP+ arrangement is a flagship EU trade policy instrument to support sustainable development and good governance in developing countries. It provides additional trade preferences to vulnerable countries which ratify and implement international conventions relating to human and labour rights, environment and good governance.

On the other hand, trade policy measures are also used in numerous environmental instruments. Restrictions on trade are used in a number of MEAs including for example on biodiversity (endangered animal and plant species), chemicals of regional or global concerns, and ozone layer depletion. The most prominent examples of EU instruments with environmental objectives that include trade measures are the Timber Regulation and related FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) Voluntary Partnership Agreements addressing trade in illegal timber, and the IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing) Regulation. The Commission carefully examines potential legislation or policies to ensure that they are WTO compliant, i.e. non-discriminatory in relation to the origin of like goods and the least trade restrictive to achieve desired environmental objectives.

More information is available on DG TRADE website on:


The Commission is in the process of updating some of the content on this website in the light of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. If the site contains content that does not yet reflect the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, it is unintentional and will be addressed.