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Europe puts labour, environmental standards on the table

Europe puts labour, environmental standards on the table in free trade talks

By Paul McBeth

Oct. 31 (BusinessDesk) - Europe wants to develop a new version of gold-plated trade deals in its negotiations with New Zealand and Australia to deliver tangible benefits for the general population as the tide goes out on globalisation.

Newly-appointed Trade Minister David Parker met with members of the European Parliament's trade committee during their two-day trip to New Zealand as a precursor to the formal negotiations, and both sides are keen on pursuing a "comprehensive trade agreement" that goes beyond removing tariffs and quotas.

Europe will pursue areas such as labour and environmental standards in the deal with New Zealand, as well as developing a public court to resolve disputes as an alternative to Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanisms. Committee chair Bernd Lange says they want to deliver a better deal than the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The committee members met with Parker, who Lange said "has a clear perspective for trade policy" and that they were "convinced he's really open-minded". Parker told RNZ's Morning Report the deal could create a "gold standard" agreement by including terms to protect labour and environmental standards and introduce a new enforcement mechanism that could then be rolled out into other agreements.

Europe plans to use its recent deal with Canada as a blueprint of a "really modern trade agreement" that's based on shared values, protects the ability to regulate public services, and is underpinned by a rules-based framework.

"It is different kind of trade agreement we want," Lange told BusinessDesk in an interview.

New Zealand's sticking point in trade negotiations is typically in agriculture, however Lange anticipates a compromise will be found, pointing to Europe's ability to find common ground with Canada, which has traditionally protected its domestic dairy and poultry industries.

Lange said there was a gap between the parties on labour standards because New Zealand hasn't ratified two of the International Labour Organisation's eight fundamental conventions, which he said were "universally accepted" and essential to making sure the wider population reap the benefits of free trade.

"Freedom of association and collective bargaining are essential to getting a fair share of the benefit, therefore ratification and implementation of universal labour law is key for a trade agreement," he said.

Europe has Asia Pacific firmly in its sights after resetting its trade strategy where it will put greater emphasis on shared values with trading partners and delivering a more transparent process during negotiations.

"New Zealand and Australia are partners which have similar values and similar perspectives and it might be much easier to find common ground with those partners than other partners worldwide," Lange said. "Parliament pushed very strongly for opening negotiations with Australia and New Zealand - perhaps the commission was not really looking to this part of the world for a long time, and now we are on track."

The European delegation's visit comes ahead of the East Asian Summit and APEC meetings, where leaders are expected to try to revive the TPP-11. Lange said he isn't convinced the agreement can go ahead without the US.

Europe is focused on pursuing bilateral agreements with the US blocking any meaningful work at the World Trade Organisation, where Lange said they can establish the frameworks they would like to have in the WTO.

"It is really important to give a signal how good and fair trade agreement could look like in this area," he said. "That might be also reason to act a little bit quicker than usual."

(BusinessDesk)

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