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Brussels, 23 June 2015 – EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström held a European Trade Policy Day that brought together a broad spectrum of high-level speakers. Stakeholders from civil society, the European Parliament, trade unions, business and academia gathered to put forward their views and ideas on European trade policy. EPHA regrets the fact that the Commission did not pay attention to the public health impacts of trade and, in response, has formulated a list of key public health demands that a successful European Trade Policy should comply with.

The European Trade Policy Day focused on the future EU Trade and Investment Strategy, the outcome of which will take the form of a communication, and will be published by October this year. Unfortunately, despite the clear predictable impact of this document and the importance of the new trade strategy for the European’s health, the EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malström, did not make any reference to health in her speech. Instead, she called for trade as the solution to solve many of our problems stating that “we want trade to be a tool to benefit consumers” and added that “supporting jobs means opening the market.”

Once again, the Commission tried to convince the audience about the advantages of extending free trade agreements, instead of assuring us that proper measures to respect our hard fought for social rights will be taken.

The Commissioner also stressed that consumers are now more aware of what they eat and buy, and therefore are willing to pay more for products respecting a fair trade notion. She welcomed the unprecedented interest on trade policy (not only TTIP) and promised to work hard for transparency, maintaining a constant conversation with civil society.

Free or Fair trade?

Bernd Lange (S & D, DE), Chair of the International Trade Committee at the European Parliament, called for fair trade, instead of free trade. He explained that the economic situation has changed in the world, and that there is an increasing need to adapt trade policy and involve civil society in it. “In the era of globalisation one needs global rules”, he said, and these rules, according to him, should be our framework.

Transparency and Free Trade Agreements

As expected, transparency (or its absence) was raised several times in different speakers’ interventions, including by Liliane Bloem (Deputy Director General, DG Coordination and European Affairs; Ambassador, Belgian full member of EU Trade Policy Committee), Marietje Schaake (MEP, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) and Hugh Pullen (Senior Director, MERCK).

In this regard, Pia Eberhardt (Corporate European Observatory) rightly made the criticism that not all information is accessible through the European Commission’s website (in fact, relevant information is not public), and pointed out that the EC has turned a deaf ear to the Ombudsman’s recommendation for minutes from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnesrship (TTIP) meeting negotiations to be published. She added that this treaty will be in force forever and to amend it is completely unrealistic. Indeed, this is a question of political will; including social society in the negotiations is not only good for citizens, but is also needed if we want wider expertise to be involved to create a robust text.

Towards A new Strategy for European Trade Policy?

The new EU strategy on EU Trade Policy will define Trade and Investment Policy for the next five years. The intentions of the European Commission, demonstrated through this event, clearly confirmed that we have strong reasons to be concerned for its ambiguity and lack of political responsibility regarding the impact of trade agreements in our social model.

What does the European Public Health Community expect from the European Trade Policy?

The questions
the European Public Health Community is facing with regard to the European Trade Policy in a global context are:

  • How to protect and improve our health whilst facilitating healthy trade?
  • How to ensure that the policy and regulatory space for governments and the EU remains intact?
  • How and where to draw these lines?
  • How to define where the public health, consumer, environmental and public safety interests prevail over commercial interests and enshrine this in the Agreement?

As regards the new EU strategy on Trade and the European Trade Policy Day

We regret the fact that the European Commission decided not to conduct a proper public consultation about the new EU strategy.

– Free Trade should not compromise the efforts of the public health community to improve population health: the EU trade policy should be based on the principle that trade and investment are not goals in themselves but constitute a means to raise standards of living and improve well-being.

– Fully in line with EU law, specific emphasis should be given to health in the European Trade Strategy given the fact that article 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) requires, in a legally binding manner, that health should be included in all EU policies.

– Trade could have an impact on our European standards of protection of health, consumers and the environment, even potentially reducing it to a global common denominator level. Lowest common denominator standards would also be against the economic interests of a knowledge-based economy like Europe.

– It is essential that the EU Trade Policy maintains the right to regulate in the public interest.

Key messages sent by interested stakeholders around the conference can be found on Twitter here: #EUTradeDay