Trade policy review fails to propose the reforms needed to align EU trade and climate policies

Global transition

The European Commission has put forward its new trade policy for the years to come. It states that EU trade policy “should unequivocally support the Green Deal in all its dimensions, including the ambition to achieve climate neutrality by 2050”. The proposal however lacks teeth to bring trade and climate together.

“We welcome that the Commission has finally found the right goal post by recognising the need to make climate mitigation a key objective of EU trade policy. The EU’s strategies to move the ball in this direction and achieve this alignment of trade and climate policies nevertheless disappoint for a self-proclaimed climate champion.” reacted Cornelia Maarfield, Trade and Climate Project Manager at Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.

Several aspects are lacking from the Commission’s proposal that would achieve the profound overhaul of EU trade policy.

The proposal fails to recognise that trade deals can contradict climate objectives by increasing greenhouse gas emissions, accelerating deforestation or liberalising trade in polluting goods. It also falls short of ruling out such deals in the future, like the EU-Mercosur agreement.

Instead, it merely puts forward a new chapter on “sustainable food systems”. However, there is little reason to believe that this will bring about major improvements, considering that the existing “Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter” has failed to do so given their vague, often unenforceable language and a lack of mechanisms to sanction non-compliance.

The strategy aims to make EU trade policy an instrument of climate policy in line with climate neutrality, but this has to include bringing the volume of traded goods back to a level that respects planetary boundaries. The Commission should also ensure that trade deals do not lead to an overall increase of greenhouse gas emissions, for instance by compensating domestic greenhouse gas reductions with higher imports.

Finally, the proposal does not address that trade agreements can restrict governments in implementing climate policies. Trade rules still trump climate policies when it comes to disputes. Moreover, mechanisms such as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which allows investors to challenge governments taking climate action, need to be removed from future and existing agreements. As long as these problems are not addressed, there is little hope that EU trade policy will play the positive role that the Trade Policy Review claims it will have.

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe had participated in the Trade Policy Review public consultation with this position paper, which describes in more detail how trade policy should be overhauled to better align it with climate policies.


Nicolas Derobert, CAN Europe Head of communications,, +32 483 62 18 88

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s leading NGO coalition fighting dangerous climate change. With over 170 member organisations from 38 European countries, representing over 1.500 NGOs and more than 47 million citizens, CAN Europe promotes sustainable climate, energy and development policies throughout Europe.


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