Sustainable Development in EU–Asia Trade Relations

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Camille Nessel in collaboration with Jan Orbie
Palgrave Macmillan
The European Union in International Affairs


Pressures have grown on European policy-makers to ensure that geo-economic interests do not come at the cost of the environment and workers’ rights. In light of increased public salience of EU trade deals with third countries, this chapter explores how the EU satisfies sustainability demands in trade agreements and how geopolitical considerations impact the design of specific clauses in recent trade deals with five Asian countries. We argue that while the relative impact of the international level on the design of sustainability clauses is not observable, the EU template allows for potential interactions between the sustainability dimensions of EU and US agreements. This chapter is divided into three parts. The first part provides an overview of the distinct characteristics of so-called Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters in EU trade agreements. We show how the EU’s ‘soft approach’ in the TSD chapters functions in particular contrast to the ‘hard approach’ followed in US trade agreements. In the second section, we explore how far geo-political considerations (‘cooperation’ and ‘competition’ scenarios) in the international sphere are able to explain the soft design of the EU TSD chapters. We come to the conclusion that internal EU dynamics (interests, ideas and institutions) are more likely to set the logic of TSD chapters. In the third section, we compare five TSD chapters in EU trade agreements with Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia, finding further evidence for the EU’s continued use of a more or less coherent template, with some provisions adapted to Asian partner countries’ preferences.