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Trade for Health: strengthened enforcement could be a double-edged sword for public health

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EPHA, along with allies has long called for the commerce and sustainable improvement (TSD) chapters included in EU commerce agreements to have extra enamel to extend coverage coherence – in different phrases, that these chapters ought to have binding results on negotiating companions, particularly for the reason that TSD chapters had been by no means correctly up to date to be aligned with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now that appears to be a rising risk, because the EU offers extra consideration to commerce defence and enforcement.

Enforcement was recognized as a precedence in Ursula von der Leyen’s mission letter to then EU Trade Commissioner, Paul Hogan and included in the Commission work programme for 2021. This has led to the appointment of Dennis Redonnet as Chief Trade Enforcement Officer (CTEO), within DG Trade, a brand new complaints system for violations of EU commerce agreements, the revision of the enforcement regulation and numerous different instruments. Redonnet, who beforehand developed the Trade for All Strategy, has summarised the main focus of this enforcement work as twofold: each contemplating market entry (i.e. imposing sanctions if different international locations discriminate towards EU companies/break the phrases of their FTA with the EU) and sustainable improvement (primarily local weather/atmosphere, labour and human rights) – presenting a double-edged sword for public well being.

What are the alternatives

On the one hand, the deal with enforcement of TSD chapters may help public well being targets – bringing appreciable well being advantages, and opening the door for public well being to be included extra expansively and enforceably in future commerce offers, rising the chance to make sure coherence between commerce and well being coverage. The new Trade Commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis described Trade and Sustainable Development chapters as giving the EU leverage “to make a direct positive impact” in a current assembly with civil society. He argued they may present a authorized foundation to work with companions to enhance social and environmental points, whereas improved defence and enforcement would again up that leverage.

Dombrovskis explained that they’re wanting on the potential to implement the TSD chapters – he spoke about “gradual enforcement,” and being extra assertive in defending EU pursuits. He mentioned conditional liberalisation (i.e. that the EU market would solely open up if the products/companions met particular standards) and potential sanctions (if TSD clauses had been violated) had been being thought-about as choices, however that that is nonetheless a piece in progress. He additionally talked about compliance with the Paris local weather settlement as an “essential element” to be linked to those potential sanctions, and {that a} research on enforcement was being ready as a part of the commerce coverage assessment. Although this was couched within the age-old Commission argument that commerce can’t be anticipated to repair all of the world’s ills, extra virtually enforceable TSD chapters definitely supply alternatives for public well being – utilizing the EU’s business energy to carry companions to their local weather targets, and labour commitments would characterize a big step in the correct route, in the direction of commerce that prioritises well-being each within the EU and in companion international locations. This would additionally contribute reaching the related SDGs.

This new focus, significantly within the context of the elevated focus for well being on the European stage from Von der Leyen and her Commission as a whole, may supply the chance to incorporate well being extra systematically in EU commerce coverage going ahead – for example by solely opening up EU markets to animal merchandise that meet sure antimicrobial resistance (AMR) requirements (conditional liberalisation) or by imposing sanctions on companion international locations who don’t meet their commitments underneath the Framework conference for tobacco Control (FCTC) or different World Health Organisation (WHO) agreements. 

..and the dangers?

On the opposite hand nonetheless, public well being targets might be confronted with the sharp finish of the EU’s enforcement sword, significantly in third international locations. Since the EU’s plans for enforcement additionally apply to market entry points, EU firms are more likely to take the chance to problem public well being measures that they think about to limit their market entry in third international locations. In a current dialogue between civil society representatives and Redonnet, a consultant of SpiritsEurope, the European alcoholic spirits foyer, expressed their curiosity and encouragement on the Commission’s newfound consideration for enforcement. Given the appreciable sources of the alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy commodities lobbies throughout Europe and in Brussels, public well being advocates must work even tougher to ensure that EU commerce agreements don’t create avenues by which such non-public pursuits can problem laws within the public curiosity. And the European Commission ought to take notice the useful resource effectivity between non-public and public curiosity representatives and may make an effort to steadiness that imbalance – re-establishing the Trade Advisory Group on a paritarian foundation, because it was the case previously, could be a superb first step to that route.

Although already recognized as an EU-wide precedence, it appears that evidently the EU’s dedication to a extra assertive defence of EU pursuits will quickly face its first large take a look at, as discussions around the EU’s proposed deal with Mercosur rumble on. Several member states, together with NGOs and parliamentarians are pushing for the deal to be rejected as a result of Brazil’s undermining of the Paris settlement, due to, amongst different points, rampant deforestation. Either this would be the first time the EU makes use of its new enamel to guard planetary and human well being, or it will likely be revealed to be simply be one other rhetorical flip, used to help sell flawed agreements, and promote EU progress above wider public curiosity targets. We shall have to attend to see which means the sword falls.

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