On 6 October 2023, the Department of EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies at the College of Europe, Bruges campus, organised an international conference to discuss the European Union’s management of the environment-trade nexus.
Over the past decades, the EU has increasingly used trade policy for the promotion of non-trade concerns. While the trade-development nexus has been on the political agenda since the 1970s, the Union added the promotion of human rights and democracy to its unilateral and bilateral trade instruments after the end of the Cold War. More goals were included since the 2000s, ranging from security, gender and migration-related concerns to environmental and climate objectives. The common commercial policy has thus increasingly become intertwined with other policies, and article 21 TEU established a catalogue of goals in the quest for a more coherent EU external action.
With the adoption of the European Green Deal (EGD) in 2019, the EU signalled its intention to reinforce this trend. The EGD calls for a transformation of the EU’s socio-economic system, which includes attention to mainstreaming climate and environmental objectives, in line with article 11 TFEU, into all internal and external policies. In this context, trade is expected to support the EU’s green transition, drawing on the leverage provided by the world’s largest single market. This is also reflected in the 2021 Trade Policy Review, which propagates a trade strategy that promotes greater sustainability, contributes to the green and digital transformation and makes global supply chains more sustainable.
This conference took stock of the state of the changing relationship between the EU’s environmental (including climate) and trade policies. To what extent and how has this relationship been changing since 2015, when the EU’s ‘Trade for All’ strategy and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change were adopted, and what has been the impact of the EGD? Which strategies, approaches and instruments to manage the environment-trade nexus have emerged? And how effective have they so far been in advancing EU ecological and/or trade objectives? Has the EU succeeded in striking a balance between these objectives, and if so, why?
The conference consisted of three sessions: Session I discussed how the environment-trade nexus has evolved at the multilateral level. Session II moved on to the bilateral level by assessing the EU’s inclusion of sustainability concerns in Free Trade Agreements. Session III investigated EU unilateral trade tools that aim at promoting sustainability abroad, including by evaluating EU efforts to green supply chains.
The conference was open to all College of Europe students and to the public.