Blog: Values-based trade

I often get questions about how trade and trade agreements can contribute to strengthening high standards with regard to for example labour and the environment. That is an important question. For me, it is essential that trade agreements strengthen the position of the EU in the world and that they ensure that the values we cherish are more broadly shared. Last month, the European Commissioner for trade, Cecilia Malmström, presented a new trade strategy, in which she clearly demonstrates that this is also a crucial point for her. The question is, why is it necessary and how can this goal be reached. Emerging economies, such as China, Russia and the Gulf States are often less concerned about the protection of people and planet. The way Qatar treats the workers building the stadiums for the football World Cup in 2022 is a good example. The way Chinese companies operate in Africa also demonstrates this. Those countries try to create economic growth against any price. But they also break existing international agreements and rules. State aid to Chinese companies is a big problem for the European industry. Russia has banned certain European products, apparently to protect Russian consumers, but actually to put political pressure on European member state governments. Because playing by the rules is no longer a given, we must work together with those countries that do believe in an international system that is based on rules and values, in order to strengthen it globally. One of the ways to do that is by using trade agreements to jointly set the rules of the road in the international community. Another way is for example by setting joint climate goals, such as those that will hopefully be agreed at the UN conference on climate change later this month in Paris. Today, the European Commission presented a new proposal for a chapter on sustainable development in the trade agreement between the EU and the US. This text contains clauses to increase cooperation between the EU and the US to combat child labour, illegal fishery and illegal trade in endangered species, but also to facilitate the trade in environmentally friendly goods. Furthermore, in this text, the EU and the US would commit to not lowering labour standards and would underwrite the core principles of the International Labour Organisation. If the two biggest trading blocs in the world set joint ambitious goals, we can more easily reach them globally. A well-known example is that the EU and the US on their own were unable to make sure that lead paint was not used in Chinese toys. However, they were successful when they sent a joint delegation. Together we have a stronger negotiating position to make sure that companies in third countries produce according to our standards and rules. If those companies follow that standard, they are able to access a market of 800 million consumers. That is more attractive than access to only the American or the European market. In this way, we use our economic weight to effect change which can benefit consumers, workers and the environment. This does not mean that we need to harmonise all EU and US standards, but where it proves possible, the effects could be positive. By making increasing cooperation and setting standards now, we stand stronger in a rapidly changing world. The idea of an international community based on rules and values is increasingly under pressure. Trade agreements are one piece of the puzzle to make sure rules are adhered to, to set standards and to protect and enforce our values globally. See also: 28-10 MEP: Transparency negotiations on trade agreements must be a priority 14-10 MEP: New European trade strategy should be implemented quickly 05-10 Reaction MEP Schaake to conclusion TPP 16-09 MEP: Commission must increase pressure on American negotiators 12-08 Blog: The real reward in TTIP