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Tuesday, 09 November 2010

Can Trade Policy Improve Human Rights ?

On 13 October 2010 the Conference 'Can Trade Policy Improve Human Rights' was organized by the Socialists&Democrats in the European Parliament in Brussels. Presentations were made by representatives from the WTO, ILO, George Washington University, Avocats sans Frontiéres France. EU Commissioner De Gucht also adressed the audience, explaining his pro free trade policy.  In his conclusions the President of the S&G Group, Mr. Martin Schultz, said that he is not supporting the opinion of Members in the European Parliament who say 'First Trade and than Human Rights'. He also does not support views that say 'no human rights no trade'. There has to be a good balance.  Another concern is that the European Parliament does not have the tools (capacity) yet for its new co-decision competency and responsability with regard to the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) Negotiations, provided for in the Lisbon Treaty. That is why they are organizing these conferences and hearings, to listen to the opinions of the experts and to learn.  So it is a kind of capacity building of the European Parliament and its members. But will it be efficient to deal with these complex global trade issues? Now the focus is on human rights and social and environmental rights and standards of the FTAs, but there are other trade policy issues to address. Recommendations were made to establish a binding complaint management system for human rights violations in FTAs. Dispute settlement should be applied to all chapters, also to the sustainable chapter, which is not the case in the FTA Korea (and in the CF-EC-EPA and probably other FTAs). The conclusion is that Trade Policy can improve the economic development of a country, but economic growth does not mean that human rights, labour rights and social and environmental rights are improved. In some countries they are (for example Mauritius), but in many countries in the South social-, environmental and labour conditions are worsened because of FTAs (longer working hours, no job security, no healthy circumstances, no more access to cheap medicines etc.).   That has also been said by Asian and European representatives during the 8th ASIA-Europe's People's Forum, organised from 2 - 5 October 2010 in Brussels, parallel to the 8th Asia-Europe ASEM Summit in Brussels.

Source: Joyce van Genderen-NAAR, Lawyer
Advisor ACP Civil Society Forum

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