EU Commission releases TTIP sustainable development proposal

13 November 2015

The European Commission publicly released last week its proposal for a chapter on sustainable development within a trade and investment agreement currently being negotiated with the US, calling for a series of provisions on labour and the environment.

The EU executive also released a comprehensive report on Friday 6 November on the latest round of these Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, which were held in the US city of Miami last month. (See Bridges Weekly, 29 October 2015) [Editor's note, Bridges Weekly is ICTSD's flagship publication on trade and sustainable development news]

The report on the Miami round indicated that the two sides reviewed the sustainable development proposal over three days, with that time dedicated to explaining the EU proposal in further detail, reviewing areas of interest to either side, and discussing subsequent steps in the negotiation.

“Trade agreements are primarily designed to create new economic opportunities for employers and for people all over the world. But the new generation of EU trade agreements is also about promoting responsibility, as set out in our new trade strategy recently,” said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on Friday upon the release of the sustainable development proposal.

The trade and investment strategy referred to by the EU official aims to set the direction in this area of policymaking over the next five years, and is known as “Trade for All.” It is now under discussion among officials from different EU institutions. (See Bridges Weekly, 15 October 2015)

According to Malmström, including “ambitious, innovative, and enforceable” provisions in a TTIP sustainable development chapter are key for ensuring that current high standards by both trading partners are preserved and improved; to promote at an international level their shared labour standards; and to use trade in a way that addresses environmental challenges.

The proposal is divided into four sections: overarching principles, labour aspects, environmental aspects, and cross-cutting issues.

Objectives, right to regulate

Under the proposal’s overarching principles section, the European Commission has tabled various objectives which this chapter aims to attain, including TTIP’s contribution to sustainable development; more mutually supporting labour, environmental, trade, and investment policies; and the establishment of policies that contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals announced this past September, among others. (See Bridges Weekly, 1 October 2015)

The third article of that section then addresses the “right to regulate,” as well as levels of protection, in this area for both sides. Regarding the former, it outlines a recognition on behalf of each party of the other’s right “to determine its sustainable development policies and priorities, to set and regulate its levels of domestic labour and environmental protection, and to adopt or modify relevant policies and laws accordingly.”

Such a right, it notes, must not go contrary to the international labour standards and agreements, as well as the multilateral environmental agreements, referred to in the proposed chapter.

Furthermore, the article would commit the US and EU to make sure that domestic laws “provide for and encourage high levels of protection in the labour and environmental areas,” with a view to improving both the laws themselves as well as the intended protection.


The 17-page textual proposal includes a formal backing of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Decent Work Agenda, as well as the ILO’s core labour standards, such as prohibiting employment- or occupation-based discrimination and committing to end forced and child labour.

The document also would commit TTIP parties to continue efforts toward ratifying ILO Conventions and their Protocols, along with updating each other on such processes.

The proposal also enshrines the protection of ILO standards relating to health and safety at work, along with suggesting ways to improve dialogue between the parties on labour issues and a commitment to promote at the international level the elimination of child labour, as well as forced and compulsory labour.


The third section, focused on trade-relevant environmental issues, has articles devoted to multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs); the protection and sustainable management of biological diversity; wildlife trade; forest trade; fisheries and aquaculture; chemicals and waste; and collaboration on “trade-related aspects of environmental policies” to meet TTIP goals.

For example, the wildlife and forest articles both include a proposed commitment to take domestic measures toward combatting trade in illegal wildlife and logging, along with enhancing cooperation in this regard. Improved cooperation is also envisioned to prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU), along with taking “effective measures” on this front.

The proposal would also commit parties to “formulate effective policies and take effective measures to prevent or minimise adverse effects on human health and the environment related to chemicals and waste,” along with cooperating and taking steps to combat illegal shipments of such waste on an international scale, among other provisions.

Other areas for potential TTIP cooperation on environment issues include biological diversity; desertification and land degradation; environmental goods, technology, and services trade; sustainable consumption and production; and marine issues, among others.

The horizontal commitments outlined in the proposal include a recognition by parties that they should not reduce domestic labour or environmental protections for the sake of promoting trade or investment, nor should they waiver or derogate from such laws for that purpose.

Other articles in that section fall under the headings of transparency and public participation; the review of sustainability impacts; corporate social responsibility and business conduct; and voluntary sustainability assurance schemes.

Implementation, enforcement

While EU officials affirm that they plan to see all elements in this planned chapter both implemented and enforced, details on how exactly they propose to do so will come further on in the negotiations.

Brussels is planning to submit a separate proposal that will cover institutions, procedures, enforcement, and how to involve civil society, the EU executive confirmed last week.

ICTSD reporting.

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