France, Holland urge EU to show teeth on trade

PARIS • France and Holland have joined forces to urge the European Union to enforce environmental and labour standards more forcefully with countries the bloc signs trade deals with, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The initiative comes as the EU tries to negotiate a new trade deal with Britain amid concerns that the country might seek to undercut EU labour and environmental standards to boost its competitiveness.

The involvement of the traditionally strongly pro-free trade Dutch underscores a shift in European thinking on the need to protect domestic industries and jobs, a French diplomat said.

A more assertive China and US President Donald Trump's more protectionist agenda have also helped to reshape European attitudes towards free trade.

In the joint proposal sent to the other 25 EU member states, the French and Dutch trade ministers urge the European Commission (EC) to be ready to raise tariffs against trade partners that fail to meet their commitments on sustainable development.

"Trade policy instruments can provide additional leverage to the implementation of international environmental and labour standards," the document said.

The EU should link tariff reductions "where relevant" to the effective implementation of trade and sustainable development provisions and be willing to take action when those provisions are breached, it added.

An official at the EC, which handles trade policy on behalf of EU member states, told Reuters the proposals were "timely" and would be taken into account in a policy review announced by EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan and planned for later this year.

The French and Dutch, who want the proposals applied both to deals under negotiation and to updates of existing trade pacts, urged the EC to inform member states more regularly on the impact that trade deals have on European jobs and domestic industries.

The document also said a commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change must be a prerequisite for any trade pact.

In the joint proposal sent to the other 25 EU member states, the French and Dutch trade ministers urge the European Commission to be ready to raise tariffs against trade partners that fail to meet their commitments on sustainable development.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2020, with the headline 'France, Holland urge EU to show teeth on trade'. Print Edition | Subscribe