EU trade policy must enable sustainable consumer choice

50% of Europeans think that one of the priorities of EU trade policy should be to ensure that EU environmental and health standards are respected. This is said in the EU’s 2019 Eurobarometer on trade, launched today. Consumer groups urge the new European Commission to empower consumers to make the sustainable choice.

 
As a new Commission will take office soon, BEUC publishes its view on how the Union’s trade policy ought to evolve over the next years to serve and protect consumers.

In this context we cannot ignore that a good that has travelled across oceans or made with weak environmental or labour standards is not sustainable. Trade policy has to account for this as the EU works towards achieving the Paris Agreement on climate change and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Consumers in Europe already have some ways to make sustainable choices. They can rely on labels such as the energy label or voluntary EU Ecolabel to choose goods and services that impact the environment less. “What’s the trade angle here?” some might ask.  

Prevent obstacles to healthy and sustainable consumer choice

Some trading partners already criticise EU health and sustainability measures. Rules to prevent the rise of resistance to antibiotics in food – a major threat to human health – have been singled out as “likely to have an unnecessary restrictive impact on international commerce”.

Were the EU to introduce more of such rules – providing more info on the durability of products or origin of processed meat, for example – it is likely that further criticisms arise.

Yet trade must comply with the Paris Agreement and SDGs, not the other way around. That is why the EU must guarantee that trade will not limit its ability to be(come) more sustainable. It can also condition trade preferences, like quotas, on trade partners’ respect for the environment and sustainable development goals.

5 keys to make EU trade policy work for consumers

BEUC deems it important that EU trade serves and protects consumers. In addition to enabling us to live sustainably, the EU should therefore:

  • Deliver a competitive market for consumers by reducing quotas and tariffs
  • Include a consumer chapter in trade agreements
  • Break the silos between the EU's trade and other policy areas
  • Improve cooperation between regulators across the globe, for example on unsafe products sold online
  • Be transparent about trade talks and involve consumer organisations

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