EU citizens want more consideration of environmental and health standards in EU trade policy

Photo: ©CEPS Think Tank

EU citizens consider that ensuring the EU’s environmental and health standards are respected in trade policy is a top priority, according to the latest Eurobarometer published on Wednesday 20 November. As sustainability, human health and animal welfare are closely interconnected, this should also be considered a call for the EU to address better animal welfare in trade policy.

The Eurobarometer on Europeans’ attitudes on trade and EU trade policy published last week asked EU citizens what they consider should be the main priorities for the EU’s trade policy in the next few years, among other questions. Compared to the previous Eurobarometer on trade published in 2010, there was a significant increase in respondents that said that ensuring environmental and health standards is key. This priority  was the second most frequently mentioned priority overall, up from fifth place (supported by 30% of respondents) in 2010, and the first in seven Member States, in particular Sweden and the Netherlands. 

Trade policies can have both negative and positive impacts on sustainability. Outgoing Trade Commissioner Malmström, who spoke at the launch event for the Eurobarometer on Wednesday 20 November, also agreed that trade policy and agreements – although not able to address all issues – should play an important role in improving sustainability. 

However, only 56% of respondents to the Eurobarometer believe that ‘EU trade policy also takes into account the social, environmental and human rights impacts both in the EU and on EU trade partners worldwide.’ This is a low result when one considers that the EU has been strongly branding its trade policy as such since the publication of its “Trade for All” Strategy in 2015.

This is thus an important call on the new Commission to build up on and intensify its work to ensure trade policies do not undermine the overarching objective of sustainable development. This means, for instance, that trade policy should not promote or stimulate unsustainable practices such as intensive farming. Given the link between intensive farming, risks to public health such as antimicrobial resistance, environmental pollution and lack of adequate animal welfare, animal welfare standards ought to have a more prominent place in trade policy, both at a bilateral and a global level.

Eurogroup for Animals believes conditional liberalisation is key. Imports of animal products should only be liberalised if they meet equivalent or higher animal welfare and sustainability standards compared to those applied in the EU. This approach would also contribute to ensuring a more level playing field, which is also considered as important by the majority of EU citizens, according to the EU barometer.

The new Commission has thus received clear instructions for the EU trade policy in the next five years: more sustainability, and more animal welfare.

Stephanie Ghislain – Trade and Animal Welfare Project Leader
+32 479 436 083

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EU citizens want more consideration of environmental and health standards in EU trade policy


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