EU Policies and Approaches
Edited by Jan Wouters, Axel Marx, Dylan Geraets and Bregt Natens
Chapter 5: Strengthening sustainable development through regional trade agreements
Sustainable development has been defined in various ways. The landmark definition is the following, which first appeared in 1987: ‘Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs’. Following the premise that regional trade agreements (RTAs) are the building blocks of multilateralism, creating RTAs with sustainable growth mechanisms is a key contemporary challenge. As things stand, RTAs can either contribute or undermine sustainable development efforts. Factors such as greater negotiating power, greater regulatory cooperation and smaller numbers of parties help in regional negotiations. For example, a state that aims to include sustainable development in all its policy aspects would find greater success in pursuing it through an RTA rather than multilaterally. Furthermore, RTAs with environmental standards may help to level the playing field. They can nullify competitive advantages gained from weaker environmental legislation, help in environmental capacity building, and enable better understanding of environmental problems. Arguendo, RTAs can ensure greater environmental protection than multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). Concessions granted while negotiating a trade deal may address sustainable development concerns. As a result, RTAs can effectively fulfil many objectives of MEAs. Most importantly, RTAs often contain binding dispute resolution clauses, which can prove to be very effective in dealing with environmental disputes. If, indeed, RTAs are to become the building blocks for ensuring climate change mitigation and meet sustainable development objectives under MEAs, negotiations would need to carefully balance trade, development and sustainable growth.
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