Committee on International Trade EU Trade Policy

Source : ETUC

Speech given by Bernadette Ségol, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)

Committee on International Trade - EU Trade Policy

To be checked against delivery



I would like to thank the Committee for your invitation to discuss EU trade policy, on behalf of the European Trade Union Confederation to which are affiliated national trade union confederations in the EU, and more widely in Europe, as well as European federations covering all industrial sectors.

External trade policy has become of increasing interest to the European trade union Movement, particularly since the institution of the “Global Europe” policy in 2006 when the EU decided to accelerate engagement in bi-regional and bilateral trade agreements.  Our interest was heightened further following the Lisbon Treaty that deepened EU competence, notably in regard to investment and, of course, gave more powers to the European Parliament – which we welcomed.

We have traditionally supported multilateral approaches to trade policy.  Nevertheless it is clear that – despite the recent efforts of Roberto Azevêdo (you have just heard) and Pascal Lamy before him – the world of trade seems to have become too complicated for the WTO to cope, at least in this period with the tools at its disposal.

I would add that, despite our efforts and those of our colleagues in the international trade union Movement to bring a social dimension to world trade in the same way as we insist that there should be one incorporated in the EU single market, the resistance by a range of countries in the WTO to move further than a few joint studies with the International Labour Organisation has been very disappointing.

We have supported Parliament’s general approach that trade agreements should be part of wider cooperation or association agreements.  The reality, however, is that the EU’s power of leverage is focussed on trade to a greater extent than other economic blocs.  Despite the efforts of the European External Action Service – which I salute – I would say that DG Trade leads when it comes to establishing actionable relations with third countries.  I do think, however, that more could be done to reinforce coherence between EEAS and DG Trade initiatives.

Article 21 of the Treaty says that the Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement. I am sure that I need not quote the whole article to you.  But the point is that trade policy is covered by this, and should reflect our high ideals.

Trade can create jobs.  European nations are trading nations, and I have no doubt that Europe can compete with the best, given a level playing field.  We oppose the protectionist sentiments promoted by both extremes of the political spectrum, particularly in the current electoral period.  They are economically counter-productive and verge on xenophobia.  We also reject a free trade ideology that takes no account of our collective preferences, summed up in the European Social Model.

We welcome the decision of the European Parliament last week to introduce references to the observance of international labour and environmental standards in anti-dumping cases, as well as the possibility for trade unions and other stakeholders to submit complaints.  I would like to thank again all those Members who supported those amendments.  I sincerely hope that those who will now engage in the trilogue will not seek to reverse those decisions.

Trade should be at the service of full and decent employment – a central EU objective that we would overlook at our peril, and which voters will not.

Which brings me to TTIP around which discussion on trade has crystallised – though it is by no means the only trade deal under consideration. 

We have yet to be convinced about figures that have been put around concerning its GDP growth and job creation potential. Suggestions that this will pull us out of the crisis are just not credible. We need a new investment plan for Europe to do that, along the lines that the ETUC has proposed.  We need a proper industrial policy – integrating external trade considerations.  I do recognise, President, that this is perhaps for another discussion.

In any event, a proper Sustainability Impact Assessment for TTIP is required, telling us what jobs would be created; with which wages and under what conditions; focussing on sectors and regions in Europe. We would need adequate adjustment instruments. Some have suggested the European Globalisation Fund.  That, if I may say so in my own language, n’est pas à la hauteur without considerable re-engineering and resourcing of the EGF.

Decent jobs for all are a key consideration.  There are others, and given the time available I will not go through the details of this massive undertaking.  But I will pick a few.

Demands for greater transparency – in which trade unions have been at the forefront - have been mounting and now have political traction.  We welcome recent responses by the Commission to publish some of its initial position papers and to establish an advisory committee including trade union representatives and NGOs. 

It also was a positive move – though under duress – for it to announce a consultation on Investor-State Dispute Settlement.  I welcomed the opportunity to discuss this with Mr De Gucht recently.  But we still have questions: will “no” mean “no” or will we be faced with a charade aimed at settling on a text already drafted in the negotiations with Canada?

Like many people, President, I have had the opportunity to peruse the Commission’s negotiating directives.  They leave an impression of deep reluctance on the part of member states to go down the ISDS route. Why is the Commission more royalist than the king in pressing on?

And, incidentally, why has the mandate not been made public?  We hear that Germany led the opposition to that.  The United States have seen it – with or without the help of the NSA.  Why not our citizens?

And if it is possible to consult on ISDS, why not on other sensitive topics? Given the inevitability of leaks, why not claim the high ground from the beginning?

A vast area at the centre of the negotiations concerns regulatory compatibility, indeed convergence. We have been clear from the outset that any TTIP agreement must set a gold standard in social and environmental as well as technical terms.

In the same way as war is too important to be left to generals, so standard setting is much too important to be left to technocrats and industrial lobbies.  I am sure that the Parliament will be vigilant in safeguarding the public interest, for example in the context of the Transatlantic Regulatory Council that has been mooted. And stakeholders –including trade unions- should have a voice, as in CEN/CENELEC for example.

Europe has shown the way in a number of areas: a prime example is REACH for the registration and evaluation of chemicals. Our ban on asbestos is an example to the world.  Our precautionary principle and the reversal of the burden of proof set guarantees.  They should not be undermined though mutual recognition of standards set by weak self-appointed regulatory bodies and policed by the fear of litigation.

At the same time, if we can achieve the feat of setting the transatlantic gold standard of the kind we suggest, there are opportunities not only to reduce administrative costs but to set high standards that will become those that the rest of the world would follow.  And, President, as we often say: “when thinking trade – think China”.

That should apply to labour standards.  We are not asking for the moon, nor are we being protectionist when we insist that all countries should fully implement international standards as set by the ILO.  A way must be found to get the United States to commit to them, even though it has only ratified two of the eight core standards (and as an advanced country should be in the position to ratify many more).  We believe that the commitment should be enforceable and apply to the sub-federal level.  The Commission’s belief that “incentives” are enough to get countries to observe their obligations has been spectacularly disproved by South Korea, which has multiplied its violations of trade union rights since our Free Trade Agreement came into force.  US FTAs indeed contain an enforcement clause –all be it weak – and the EU should go in that direction.  A strong labour chapter will send a strong message to working people that their calls for fair trade are being heard.

To conclude, President, May I repeat my thanks for the invitation to discuss these important issues, which I believe should, and indeed will, become of increasing interest to citizens during the forthcoming election campaign. 

Trade should be at the service of full and decent employment – a central EU objective that we would overlook at our peril, and which voters will not.