Mind the compliance gap: managing trustworthy partnerships for sustainable development in the European Union's free trade agreements

Research paper by Denise Prévost, Iveta Alexovičová

Indexed on: 20 Feb '21Published on: 09 Oct '19Published in: International Journal of Public Law and Policy


Recent years have seen intensified interest in the labour and environment provisions in the EU's FTAs. The question has arisen whether the incorporation of 'trade and sustainable development' (TSD) chapters in the EU's FTAs deliver on their promise of using the EU's trade power to effectively promote the protection of the environment and improved working conditions in third countries. In particular, the compliance gap between the TSD provisions and their implementation has come to the forefront of the debate. Concerns have been raised that the EU's'promotional approach' based on dialogue and cooperation is less effective that the 'sanctions-;based' approach followed by the US and Canada. This article examines the mechanisms for compliance in the TSD chapters in recent EU FTAs and argues that they hold greater promise for real improvements in labour and environmental standards than a sanctions-;based enforcement system. However, it posits that, to be effective, and thereby gain the trust of civil society, the EU's 'promotional' approach must be supported by effective mechanisms for transparency, institutionalised dialogue and accountability.