The integration of human rights in EU development and trade policies

Thumbnail Image
Beke, Laura
D’Hollander, David
Hachez, Nicolas
Pérez de las Heras, Beatriz
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The EU has attempted to foster the nexus between trade, development and human rights by gradually integrating human rights into its trade and development policies from the 1990s onwards. The Lisbon Treaty subsequently made it a legal requirement for all relevant EU institutions and bodies to ensure that trade and development are a positive force for human rights. FRAME WP 9 seeks to make sense of the intricate toolbox the EU has at its disposal to foster human rights throughout its trade and development policies, and to evaluate how the EU’s nexus between trade, development and human rights is coming to fruition in the post-Lisbon era. This first report maps the various ways human rights are integrated into trade and development policies and instruments and lays out the building blocks towards further research in this area. Human rights are channelled into trade policies through two types of instruments: unilateral and bilateral. Unilateral trade measures (i) grant preferential market access to developing countries in exchange for the implementation of human rights standards under its GSP scheme; and (ii) place restrictions on the trade in certain goods that have been detrimental to human rights. In practice, research shows that the GSP, although deemed to be ‘a dying breed’, has concretely resorted to human rights conditionality the most, as trade preferences were withdrawn on three occasions in response to human rights violations (Myanmar, 1997-2013; Belarus, 2007-present and Sri Lanka, 2010-present). EU issue-specific measures tend to paint a bleaker picture. While earlier measures on instruments of torture (2005), export of military equipment (2008) and renewable energy (2009) pay considerable attention to their linkages to human rights, the more recent measures relating to extractive industries and international forest management have been increasingly silent on this issue. Bilateral or regional trade agreements have systematically included human rights clauses since 1995, and have since recently also included sustainable development chapters specifically addressing labour rights. However, amongst a number of other flaws the monitoring and enforcement of such clauses has been found to be particularly erratic, leading to suspicions of pusillanimity and double standards. Another explanation might be that the EU favours ‘quiet diplomacy’ when human rights issues emerge in relation to trade relations. Even so, this mixed record in effectively linking bilateral trade instruments to human rights affects the credibility of the EU as a global human rights actor. Investment agreements are still in the making since Lisbon made FDI an exclusive EU policy. Regarding human rights, the little information available regarding EU BITs currently negotiated does not indicate that the EU will break any ground or adopt a particularly bold stance in linking investment and human rights. Regarding development, under the impetus of the Agenda for Change and the Strategic Framework, human rights, democracy, the rule of law and good governance have been made a priority of the EU’s development policies, as is evident notably in the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework. The EU has developed policies and measures which may be summarised into three broad categories. First, it has progressively refined its legal and policy frameworks for conditioning the provision of development assistance based on a country’s performance on human rights and democratic governance trough negative and positive conditionality. Second, the EU has scaled up its support for actors and processes related to human rights (notably the funding of the EIDHR was increased). Third, the EU is developing more coherent ’transversal’ policies integrating human rights as a cross-cutting dimension of development cooperation, such as ‘Human Rights Country Strategies’ for nearly all of its partner countries. The EU and in particular DG DEVCO have moved to strengthen the development-human rights nexus in several ways, most importantly the development and promotion of a ‘rights-based approach encompassing all human rights’ in programmes and projects. Progress has thus been made at the level of policy formulation, but the implementation of such policies and their capacity to shape the EU’s development cooperation efforts towards partner countries will require close follow-up and scrutiny.