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Sustainable development in EU trade agreements

Modern EU trade agreements contain rules on trade and sustainable development. 

Trade topics
Sustainable development

The EU and its trade partners must:

  • follow international labour and environment standards and agreements;
  • effectively enforce their environmental and labour laws;
  • not deviate from environmental or labour laws to encourage trade or investment, and thereby preventing a 'race to the bottom';
  • sustainably trade natural resources, such as timber and fish;
  • combat illegal trade in threatened and endangered species of fauna and flora;
  • encourage trade that supports tackling climate change, and;
  • promote practices such as corporate social responsibility.

The EU also uses its trade agreements to:

  • promote sustainable public procurement, and;
  • remove barriers to trade and investment in renewable energy.

EU trade agreements with the following countries include rules on trade and sustainable development:

How it works in practice

The EU meets its partners regularly to discuss how they and the EU are implementing trade and sustainable development commitments in the trade agreement between them.

Member States are regularly informed via the Trade and Sustainable Development expert group.

Dedicated civil society advisory groups in the EU and partner countries bring together environmental, labour, and business organisations to discuss the implementation of the trade and sustainable development chapters of EU trade agreements. The External Relations Section within the European Economic and Social Committee acts as secretariat of EU DAGs.

The action plan on Trade and Sustainable Development

After a debate involving EU institutions, EU Member States and civil society organisations, the Commission services published on 26 February 2018 a non-paper with 15 points for action to make the implementation of trade and sustainable development chapters more effective and to improve their enforcement. The Commission services prepare periodical updates of the implementation of the 15-point action plan. 

Trade and Sustainable Development review 2021

As announced in the Trade Policy Review Communication of 18 February 2021, the Commission is currently conducting a review of the 15-point action plan.

The review covers relevant aspects of implementing and enforcing Trade and Sustainable Development chapters in EU trade agreements, including the scope of commitments, monitoring mechanisms, sanctions for non-compliance, an essential elements clause, resources and the institutional set-up.

Corresponding to the EU’s commitment to engage in a transparent way with citizens and stakeholders, the Commission launched on 23 July 2021 an open public consultation to gather input on the key aspects of the review. The responses received will inform the review process and help the Commission to formulate the direction of EU Trade and Sustainable Development policy.

Additionally, the Commission’s services launched at the end of May 2021 an independent study to map and compare the different approaches to Trade and Sustainable Development adopted by a number of EU trade partners.