Human Rights Clauses in EU Trade Agreements: The New European Strategy in Free Trade Agreement Negotiations Focuses on Human Rights—Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Tobias DolleEmail author


Trade and Association Agreements are an important aspect of the European Union's Trade Policy. Complementing the negotiations on the multilateral level, especially in the realm of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the negotiations and the conclusion of new agreements have moved to the center of attention of the Common European Trade Policy (Article 207 TFEU). This is in part due to the slowdown of WTO negotiations. Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) empowers WTO member states to negotiate and conclude free trade agreements and customs unions, respectively. Agreements concluded under Article XXIV GATT have to cover “substantially all trade”. Considering that the EU is a very important trading partner for many countries and regions around the world, many countries and regions show a strong interest in facilitating trade relations with the European Union by lowering tariffs and removing non-tariff barriers.

Trade policy and especially the conclusion of bilateral agreements give the EU the opportunity to advance certain further issues that may become part of the negotiations and part of the agreements. An important issue is the inclusion of human rights clauses as well as clauses concerning democracy and the rule of law in the respective partner countries. This has been a practice by the EU for some time now, but its relevance has increased in recent years. In a Communication from the EU-Commission, trade policy is identified as a core element of the “Europe 2020” strategy. The EU Commission underlines that concerning its trade policy instruments, including the free trade agreements, the EU will follow the objective to encourage its partners “to promote the respect of human rights, labor standards, the environment, and good governance”. Recent years have shown that the inclusion of such clauses does not come without difficulties and many countries negotiating trade agreements with the EU are very critical of the inclusion of such clauses into the agreements and consider them an intrusion on their sovereignty, an intrusion which they cannot accept.

However, the effectiveness of such clauses has to be examined to determine if they are in fact advancing the issue of human rights. There do exist certain advantages and disadvantages of such clauses. The EU usually uses a positive approach, rewarding the compliance with the human rights' clauses. Some argue that the clauses have been diverted into a trade policy instrument and may prevent the conclusion of the agreements. The inclusion of human rights clauses in trade agreements shows once again the interdependency in today's international legal and political sphere and the influence of a plethora of actors.


World Trade Organization Trade Policy Trade Agreement Free Trade Agreement European Economic Community 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law clerkBerlinGermany

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