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