What is the TSD

The Trade and Sustainable Development Platform (TSD Platform) is an informal multi-stakeholder platform that gathers representatives from multiple sectors around a common goal; to strengthen the enforcement of labour and environmental provisions in EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

Free trade agreements (FTA) aim to increase economic activity by liberalising trade in various sectors and removing trade restrictions. Since 2014, all comprehensive trade agreements of the EU systematically include a separate chapter on Trade und Sustainable Development (TSD) to prevent a race to the bottom, to ensure that trade liberalization is not achieved at the expense of labour and environmental standards and to encourage using trade as a means to support sustainable development.

The TSD chapters are grounded on the reaffirmation of existing international and national commitments in relation to sustainable development, with a specific reference to combating climate change and the protection of environment and labour rights. In general, the chapters commit parties to refrain from increasing their investment share by lowering their social and environmental standards. The chapters also foresee the cooperation of trade partners in relevant policy areas to promote labour and environmental standards, exchange best practices and to provide information. They can also explicitly encourage trade in products that meet certain sustainability criteria, such as contributing to the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity.

The first TSD Chapter was introduced in 2009 in the EU-Korea FTA. Today, twelve EU trade agreements include rules on trade and sustainable development, with the agreements with Korea, Central America, Colombia/Peru/Ecuador, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine being already at the stage of implementation. Similar chapters are to be ratified in the context of the FTAs with Singapore, Vietnam and Canada.

However, stakeholder from the civil society and economy criticise that while the substantive provisions are clearly a step in the right direction, the enforcement of these crucial aspects is often lacking due to conflicting provisions on investment protection and the absence of effective complaint and dispute settlement mechanisms. Hence, in 2018, the Commission launched a 15-Point-Action Plan to improve the enforcement of TSD chapters. This plan is currently under review, with the Commission conducting an open public consultation as well as an independent study. The resulting input will then feed into to the review of the TSD chapters.
The TSD Chapters generally follow the same blueprint, establishing an institutional framework that includes on the one hand commitments, including:

  • General rights and obligations regarding the domestic law and policy of the parties. TSD Chapters prohibit the parties to waive or derogate from their environmental and labour standards, however, with the provisions remaining relatively vague.
  • Provisions on Multilateral Labour and Environmental Agreements. TSD Chapters include a reaffirmation of the parties to effectively implement in their domestic law and practices the multilateral environmental agreements to which they are party.
  • Commitments to cooperation and exchange information. While listing some optional issues with respect to which the parties may cooperate and exchange information, TSD Chapters also mandate cooperative activities in some defined policy areas.
  • Provisions on scientific information and precaution. TSD Chapters provide for rules on the use of scientific information in environmental law-making and make direct or indirect reference to precaution.
  • Sectoral provisions. TSD Chapters contain commitments and obligations with respect to specific environmental sectors, such as provisions on the Sustainable Management of Forests or the Sustainable Management of Fisheries.

On the other hand, the framework outlines several bodies tasked to ensure the implementation of the respective TSD Chapter, including the:

  • Committee on Trade and Sustainable Development. TSD Chapters require the establishment of a Committee on Trade and Sustainable Development consisting of senior officials from each party’s relevant administration and responsible for the effective implementation of the TSD Chapters.
  • Domestic Advisory Group. Each of the parties must convene a Domestic Advisory Group (DGA) which represents economic, social and environmental stakeholders with a business sub-group, a labour sub-group and a sub-group for ‘other organisations’.
  • Civil Society Forum/Joint Dialogue. The TSD Chapters require the parties to convene a forum in which the DAGs and other stakeholders can maintain a dialogue with the party governments on the implementation of TSD Chapters.