EU Trade Agreements are subjected to a three pronged review before the European Parliament (EP), Council and the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which ordinarily would widen the net for any agreement that falls foul of human-rights ethos to be rescinded. This is not mere comity but a treaty obligation under Article 1 of the Lisbon Treaty and the EU Policy. The EU has taken several initiatives that show its commitments. It has started the EU Cities Award for Fair and Ethical Trade to allow member-state consumers to undertake informed decisions, passed resolutions to halt EU imports of minerals that fund conflicts and forced labour, has advocated for torture-free trade related UN Convention and has recently been incorporating legally-binding labour and environment standards in all its agreements with a specific reference to Paris Agreement. However, since all three bodies at the EU pursue different goals, the conditionality clauses have not always been uniform.
Several of its agreements have been halted over contentious issues of human-rights, such as the EU FTAs with Malaysia, Thailand El Salvador. EU-Myanmar Negotiations on Bilateral Investment have halted after 5 rounds of negotiations because of the Rohingya refugee crisis. Negotiations for a renewed agreement with Russia have also been suspended by the European Council since March, 2014 (annexation of Crimea). EU has also started an official procedure which could lead to suspension of the EU Cambodia Preferential Trading Status because of violation of human rights and labour rights. It has attempted to modernise the first-generation FTAs (executed before 2005) to include more ‘rule and value based’ systems (Mexico, since April 2018) and consistently provided macro-financial assistance to countries like Jordan and Tunisia hosting Syrian refugees, to improve their balance of payments. However, there have been criticisms that in its attempts to forge economic deals with more industrialised states, it has been willing to compromise on the human-rights aspects. A few authors believe, that the EU’s diminishing importance as a commercial hub over emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil, might be reason.
The EU-India Free Trade Agreement (‘FTA’) negotiations that commenced around 2007, have been stalled since 2013 over several issues including India’s dismal record of its treatment of minorities and human-rights defenders, its position on Kashmir (and lately, the Citizenship Amendment Act) and environmental and labour standards such as its tolerance of bonded and child labour. Agreed, there have been a few agreements pursued (1994 Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development and the 2004 Strategic Partnership agreement), but they have been more in the nature of political statements than binding economic commitments.
There are also a few concerns emerging with an ‘EU-wide advocacy’ solution, for several reasons including: the marked increase in populist right-wing led governments (for instance, Hungary), rising grievances against the high standards propounded by courts such as the Abu Qatada judgement of the ECtHR which upheld that fair trial principles triumph even national interests, in the context of deportation of Abu Qatada to Jordan, recession trends and economic slowdowns (for example, in Greece) that have lowered the bloc’s bargaining power, EU’s inconsistency in its own internal affairs (for instance, no actions have been taken against Spain over its actions in Catalonia over similar issues of self-determination) and a perception amongst developing countries that human-rights is a Western concept (recently cited by India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah).
Adoption of an intersectional approach
Although the EU speaks collectively on these matters, it is not denied that larger member-states often prevail over the smaller ones at the EP, hence a supranational assessment may not be the best way forward. As of March 2019, 13 member states including Germany, Belgium and France, enjoyed a trade surplus with India, while 20 member states including Netherlands and Spain stood at a deficit. A greater asymmetry of positions could indicate which way the deal ultimately tilts. The latter group would seem to be more willing to hold India to higher standards.
An analysis of the goods traded would be the next step. The EU enjoys a higher export-import ratio over India in goods such as aircrafts and associated equipments for which finding alternate markets would be difficult. Whereas India’s trade in terms of food-products, including sea-food (running into 50,000 crores) have been facing losses over the US halting imports. After the US, the EU would have naturally been the next biggest market, but the inking of the EU-Vietnam FTA indicates that further losses could percolate from the EU.
For a while now, India has been continually adopting a protectionist stance. The government has been contemplating restrictions on imports of electronic goods since it believes that its signing of the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement that led to higher imports by reduction of import duties, hurt its domestic consumers. In April 2019, the EU had taken India to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body on ICT Goods for imposing ‘unlawful duties’. It has also maintained this stance at the recently concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) over concerns about Chinese goods flooding the market. It seems less likely to compromise over the EU deal now. Apart from this, India has an alternative in the form of an FTA with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) led by its political ally Russia (other countries include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan). Since the bloc lies at a distance, it would be unlikely to invest heavily and India need not be too worried about losses to its domestic players. Moreover, there is greater scope for exchange in technology (India has previously expressed its willingness to provide SEZs to Russia) and the bloc is as large as MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) with whom India has had trade pacts since 2009. While Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and Egypt are in the process of negotiating FTAs with EAEU. Vietnam has already entered into an FTA with the bloc and this could be setting a precedent. Finally, India could enter into deal without the added weight of incorporation of human-rights clauses and this makes it more likely to maintain its position on the EU FTA.
However, the EU still holds the bargaining chip because India’s current economic losses and decreasing levels of investment could deter concrete deals at this point.
Cedric Ryngaert, expert in international law, opined that EU’s obligations to ensure its trading partner’s compliance with human-rights standards in context of the Fronte Polisario judgement, were not merely extraterritorial but flowed from its territorial obligations to exercise due-diligence since the agreements were concluded within EU, although its effects were felt on a foreign territory. He argues that even though the EU Courts may not be able to prohibit the execution of agreements, they are still competent to examine whether there has been an ‘error of assessment’ on the part of the Council. There could be similar arguments regarding the application of the passive personality principle (although the principle itself has not gained much traction), since individuals from occupied territories are now residing or are nationals of EU member states, the bloc holds a duty towards them.
Purely academic concerns aside, to prevent backlash on the part of the EU Member States, strict standards of assessment could be confined to ‘serious’ violations as opposed to ‘ordinary violations’. The seriousness could be assessed for example, by identifying whether the category of human rights being violated is peremptory in nature or at least the minimum essential or core obligations. This finds support in the example that even the concept of exercise of universal jurisdiction is limited to certain serious violations and Article 42 of the Draft Articles on Responsibility of International Organizations (DARIO) that prohibits international organisations from recognizing as lawful a situation created by a serious breach of peremptory norms nor render aid or assistance in maintaining that situation. Apart from self-determination and the freedom of religion, the core labour standards (on forced/compulsory labour, association and collective bargaining and child labour) are also part of customary international law.To see how strongly these principles are upheld, notice that even as a part of EU’s Public Procurement policies (See, 2014 Directives) which is supposed to comprise a significant proportion of its GDP (almost 14% of their GDP) and where member states are usually allowed discretion, one exception stood out: where the corporation or its operators have been convicted by a final judgement of child labour or trafficking (Art 57(1)(f) Dir 2014/24/EU).
EU agreements with other industrialised nations have not been completely smooth either. EU opted for consultations (17 December 2018) and follow-ups with South-Korea over non-ratification of four fundamental ILO Conventions and has also referred the matter for arbitration(2 July 2019). It has provided support to Central American countries (Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica) in implementing ILO reforms through their regional offices, adoption of due diligence business plans and formation of tripartite councils (for collective bargaining) while condemning the situation in Nicaragua. In Columbia, Peru and Ecuador, where there were issues over child labour, collective bargaining and association rights, illegal mining and fishing issues, it has set up ‘technical missions’ to identify and provide suggestions (labour networks have been set up, hazardous occupations lists revised in Colombia, financing of labour inspection by EU in these countries, commitments to the endangered species convention). It has provided assistance packages to Georgia and Ukraine subject to them undertaking concrete measures (Georgia has enacted laws on occupational safety and health, while maintaining that Ukraine must address governance issues such as through adoption of anti-money laundering laws).
There are existing bottlenecks in several other countries too, yet, there still exists an agreement.
The EU is generally not hesitant in enforcing the provisions, but believes in initially resorting to dialogues and bilateral talks, seeks reports from civil society, looks to the implementation of the provisions through follow-ups. Suspension or unilateral cessation of operation of the FTAs are a bit unusual. The human rights clauses are unique to the FTAs executed by the EU. These provisions are not standalone, and the whole reason why they exist in trade agreements is to incentivise the partner states to uphold their commitments.
EU has a large presence at the WTO. One of its agendas has been entering into agreements with WTO members and keeping them plurilateral, open for other WTO members to enter at a later stage. This would eventually lead to anchoring those agreements at the WTO Level itself, even if negotiated outside the organisation. India would stand at a loss if it were to leave the deal. India could also be a prominent partner when it comes to trade in services(as of 2014, the Trade in Services for EU stood at 728 Billion Euros and 60% of the EU investment abroad is related to services). It has also been negotiating the ambitious plurilateral agreement on services wherein it will engage in EU-financed exchanges, training and other capacity-building initiatives, negotiation of mobility related issues for professionals and conditions of entry and residence for nationals of non-member states. Instead of out rightly lobbying for stopping all negotiations over the FTA, showing that the EU has an upper-hand, and overselling the importance of the EU trade deal to India is what I believe will be the best way to ensure that India fulfills its human rights mandate. The Indian civil society to engage with trade confederations so as to push their business interests to facilitate trade deals considering their losses. Finally, EU at its end could be led by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights(the revised Draft for a binding treaty along these lines was formulated in July 2019) to control corporations entering into trade agreements or investing in countries with low human rights track records.
 The proposal to initiate a trade agreement with a non-member state arises from the European Commission (EC).DG Trade is one of the bodies that leads discussions before the EC. There is also the Trade Policy Committee (TPC) (a working group made up of the EU Member States that works alongside the EC). Both are known to adopt a liberal economic approach. However, EP can take the ultimate decision by choosing to not ratify agreements that have already been executed, although it cannot alter them. The EP is believed to espouse political values over commercial interests. To avert such a situation, the TPC has started deliberating with the EP’s Committee on International Trade. Finally, the European External Action Service (EEAS) is motivated to maintain a coherence in External Policies and is known to prefer values over interests. Legal commitments towards human-rights principles is enshrined also as a part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Development Cooperation, Common Commercial Policy, Area Freedom and Justice, the 2012 Strategic Framework and corresponding Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy and the Common Agreement on the use of Political Clauses, 2009. These policy documents, provide that human rights clauses should be included either as a part of the FTA itself, or a political document that precedes the execution of the FTA. The Commission in certain cases also draws up Impact Assessments (before negotiations) and Sustainability Assessments (during the negotiations) to understand the potential impact of trade liberalisation on the HRs situation in the territory and the State’s ability to fulfill their obligations. This has been understood recently, to be a part of the EU’s obligations under Article 21.
Bringing cultural and creative industries back in the game
The lockdown and social exclusion interventions have highlighted the value of arts and culture for people’s mental wellbeing – and, likely, health, due to the increasingly recorded psychosomatic effects of cultural access. But their benefits do not stop there. In terms of economic impact and jobs, the cultural and creative fields are important in and of themselves. They encourage creativity all around the economy and lead without any doubt to a variety of other socially beneficial networks, such as education, inclusion, urban regeneration just to name a few. Despite their vital role in our societies, culture and creatives industries are among the hardest hit since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with major cities also having the highest concentration of work openings.
In these unprecedented times, with multiple crisis emerging almost on a daily basis, one after another, people – and local actors are for most, all round the world, turning to public support, desperately hoping for strong actions. Economy recovery plans announced by governments have been a first very encouraging sign. But despite all efforts, following a review of the overall landscape of the cultural sector across the globe, policies to help businesses and employees during the pandemic may not be well-suited to the sector’s non-traditional business models and modes of employment. Policies should harness the economic and social impacts of culture in their wider recovery packages and efforts to transform local economies, in addition to short-term funding for artists and businesses from both the public and private sectors.
According to the OECD report ‘’Culture shock: COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors’’, Cultural and Creative Sectors (CCS),including tourism, are among the most impacted by the present situation, with job losses varying from 0.8 to 5.5 percent of total employment across the creatives sector. It has been witnessed that social distancing policies have the greatest impact on venues-based industries (such as museums, performing arts, live music, concerts, cinema, and so on). The sudden decline in sales has put their financial stability in jeopardy, resulting in lower-wage earnings and layoffs, with ramifications for their suppliers’ value chain, both innovative and non-creative.
Because of a variety of factors, the consequences can last a long time. In the coming months, if not years, the effects of the recession and a decline in cultural sector investment might have an impact on the development of cultural products and services, as well as their diversity. Lower levels of international and domestic tourism, a drop in purchasing power, and reductions to public and private funds for arts and culture, especially at the local level, may accelerate this worrying growth in the medium term. And unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
And it goes without saying that the downsizing of cultural and artistic industries would have a detrimental effect on cities and regions in terms of employment and revenues, levels of innovation, public well-being, and the richness and inclusion of communities in the absence of responsive public funding and recovery strategies. This though is inspiring dread. With vaccination programs promising us to get our ‘’normal lives” back in a near future, can we imagine actually living in a place with less theatres, less museums, less creativity? At a time when some major cultural institutions are on the verge of bankruptcy, having to choose between keeping their loyal employees or selling a master piece, this horror script is closer than ever. On top of that, the crisis has brought to light the financial vulnerability of some of the sector’s producers. Indeed, microbusinesses, non-profit organizations, and artistic practitioners make up the majority of the cultural and creative industries, which are frequently on the edge of financial viability. For the provision of innovative goods and services, broad public and private cultural institutions and companies depend on this diverse cultural ecosystem.
The dysfunctionality of public assistance programs that are inadequately applied to cultural and creative sectors business models and job opportunities has created more trouble for this sector. In view of the pandemic, national and local governments around the world have indeed adopted a slew of initiatives to support workers and companies, but many of them, especially those not aimed at CCS, are unsuited to the industry’s peculiarities. Jobs and state benefits programs are not always available or tailored to the modern and non-standard types of work that are more unstable and prevalent in the CCS. And this is how we fail at bringing back to life such a vital sector. From an economic point of view, but also societal.
But there is hope. There are solutions. Proposals. Specific policies, targeting the core of the problem, can be implemented at corporate and government level to enhance the cultural sector’s growth. Indeed, first of all, both private and public sectors need to work hands in hands if we want to give a chance to the creative industries to recover from this pandemic, and be part of the global recovery we are all craving for. In the short term, it should be made sure at government level that public support for COVID-19 relief does not discriminate against cultural and creative sector businesses and employees because of their non-traditional business models and job contracts. Furthermore, initiatives shall be taken to increase the effectiveness of policy initiatives, CCS network organizations, self-employed workers, small cultural and innovative enterprises, and sectoral employer organizations were consulted. By simplifying eligibility requirements and making them open to hybrid types of jobs, gaps in self-employment support systems can be filled. In addition, non-profit organizations should be included in funding programs aimed at helping small companies retain workers along with assurances that the funding for cultural organizations exceeds artifacts. On the medium and long term, private and government bodies should promote greater complementarities between culture and other policy sectors. For instance, advances in the cultural and creative sectors can also benefit education, especially in the use of new digital tools based on gaming technology for example and new forms of cultural material. Greater collaboration between health care and the cultural and artistic sectors will help to enhance well-being, prevent disease, or postpone its occurrence, encourage the development of healthier behaviors, and prevent social isolation. Development of new local cultural tourism strategies that resolve several large-scale or intensive tour operators’ socially and environmentally unsustainable practices. There is indeed a very wide range of possibilities. Endless possibilities within our reach. The potential is unlimited if only we decide to seriously consider it.
Innovative ways to resume international travel
International travel was predictably impacted as a result of covid 19 and the tourism industry suffered severe losses.
According to the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism organization) barometer, the period from January-October 2020 witnessed a whopping 72% drop in tourist arrivals (international tourist arrivals dropped by 900 Million when compared to the January-October 2019 period). The loss in export revenues, year on year, from the tourist sector were a staggering 945 Billion USD. Tourist arrivals across regions witnessed a drop. According to the UNWTO barometer, the drop in tourism would cause a loss of 2 Trillion USD to the global economy.
Countries looking to resume international flights
During the midst of the pandemic, agreements were signed to facilitate essential travel between various countries (priority was given to workers, students or individuals who had to travel for emergency purposes).
Countries which have been successful in dealing with the pandemic have been looking to gradually resume international flights. Since October 2020, Singapore whose economy is significantly dependent upon tourism had signed agreements with certain countries to ensure that travel for important purposes was less restrictive — either the quarantine period was reduced, or in some cases was not required at all.
New Zealand will be allowing quarantine free travel from Australia for the first time from April 19. New Zealand PM, Jacinda Ardern:
‘The Trans-Tasman travel bubble represents a start of a new chapter in our COVID response and recovery, one that people have worked so hard at’
Australia has been permitting travellers from New Zealand to enter most parts of the country without quarantine, though this has not been reciprocated.
A travel bubble has also opened between Taiwan (which has reported a little over 1,000 cases and 10 deaths) and the Island of Palau (which has reported 0 deaths) where travellers need not quarantine themselves (there are a number of other restrictions though).
Vaccine Passports, Digital Pass and differing perspectives
As countries get ready to open up travel, there has been a debate with regard to using ‘vaccine passports’ (these are documents which show that travellers have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or recently tested negative for the virus).
One country which is using this experiment domestically is Israel. It has issued a document known as ‘Green Pass’ to those who have been vaccinated or if they have developed immunity. This Green Pass can be used for entry into gyms, hotels, restaurants and theatres. The UK and US too are mooting the idea of introducing such an arrangement. This idea has faced fervent opposition in both countries. In UK, opposition parties Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) have opposed the idea of such a covid certification document. The reasons cited for opposition are concerns with regard to ‘equity, ethics and privacy’. The UK government has stated that a covid status certificate would not be introduced before June, and trials of various schemes to ensure safe opening up of the UK economy would carry on.
In the US, Republicans are opposing the idea of a vaccine passport saying that such an idea would be an attack on personal freedoms. Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr urged Republicans to ‘vocally and aggressively’ stand up against vaccine passports.
If one were to look at international travel, International Airport Transport Association (IATA) has introduced a travel pass, a digital certificate, which will confirm a flyer’s COVID-19 test result and vaccination status. Singapore will be accepting travellers using this mobile digital pass from May 2021.While the pass has been tested by Singapore Airlines, 20 airlines (including Emirates and Malaysia Airlines) are in the process of testing the pass.
While one of the pitfalls of a covid status certificate or Vaccine passport is the impingement upon privacy, it has also been argued that developing countries will be at a disadvantage given the relatively slow rate of vaccination in the developing world. While remarking in the context of Africa,Dr. John Nkengasong the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said:
‘We are already in a situation where we don’t have vaccines, and it will be extremely unfortunate that countries impose a travel requirement of immunization certificates whereas the rest of the world has not had the chance to have access to vaccines.’
In conclusion, it is important for innovative ways to resume international travel. Safety needs to be balanced with equity, for this it is imperative that all actors engage in a constructive manner. A number of observers have suggested that vaccine passports/covid status certificates should be made optional, and that there is nothing wrong in using technology per se but it should not be thrust on anyone. The fight against the pandemic and revival of international travel are a golden opportunity for countries to reverse the increasing sense of insularity and inequity which has risen in recent years.
Will the trade war between China and the United States come to end?
Authors: Raihan Ronodipuro& Hafizha Dwi Ulfa*
The recent trade conflict between the United States and China has had a direct effect on some of the world’s economic players. These two countries are attacking each other with declarations and a trade war; the relationship between the two countries can be defined as a love-hate relationship because the two countries have a lot of mistrust for each other, but they still need each other.
The United States requires China as a global source of low-wage labor as well as a market for marketing American products, and China requires the United States as an investor in its companies as well as a market for marketing Chinese products known for their low-cost. What makes these two countries to be so cold to one another? To answer the question, let’s go back to when this trade war saga started.
Donald Trump is a successful businessman who owns enterprises and corporations all over the world. His candidacy for President of the United States in 2016 poses several concerns, including whether Trump is eligible to run for office. Trump replied by becoming the 45th President of the United States, succeeding Obama.
Trump adopted a protectionism agenda in order to shield the US economy from what he referred to as the “robber from China.” Trump has released a law stating that all steel and aluminum products entering the United States from Europe, China, Canada, and Mexico would be subject to 25% and 10% tariffs, respectively. Of course, China is outraged that the United States issued this order, as well as a related policy on all tribal products. Automobile components, as well as agriculture and fishery products, are manufactured in the United States.
In addition to the tariff battle, President Trump has expressly demanded that the TikTok and WeChat apps be prohibited from running in the United States. We know that these two technologies are very common in the larger population. Giant corporations, such as Huawei, have not survived Trump’s “rampage,” with the Chinese telecommunications giant accused of leaking US national security data to China through Huawei’s contract with US security authorities.
As a result, many US firms were forced to cancel contracts with Huawei or face sanctions. Google is one of the companies impacted by this contract termination, which means that all Huawei smartphone devices manufactured in 2019 and after will lack any of Google’s services such as the Google Play Store, Gmail, and YouTube.
Many of the world’s economic organizations predict a 0.7 percent drop in GDP in 2018 and a 2% growth in 2020. Coupled with the Coronavirus pandemic, the global economy has become increasingly stagnant, with global economic growth expected to be less than 0%.
Amid the tough trade negotiations between the United States and China, COVID-19 pandemic is also affecting their relationship. The United States domestic pressure to contain the pandemic, has led Trump to accuse China of being the virus spread source. As a consequence, Trump put the US-China future relations at stake with his “China’s Virus” label. Besides, the United States absence from World Health Organization (WHO) during Trump administration along the pandemic, that become a new opportunity for China to expand its influence. China uses the Covid-19 pandemic issue as an opportunity.
China’s successful in controlling the pandemic, has also made China confident in facing the United States. Meanwhile, the United States is increasingly threatened by its position. Moreover, the United States dependence on overcoming Covid-19 which requires relations from many parties, including China, makes the United States’ position weak as a superpower.
This is what we hoped for when Biden took office. Many consider President Joe Biden to be willing to “soften” the United States’ stance on the trade war with China. After his inauguration on January 20, 2021, Biden has made many contacts with Beijing to address a variety of issues, one of which is the continuation of the trade war.
The United States and China agreed to meet in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18-20, 2021, to discuss this issue. The meeting produced no bright spots in the escalation of the US-China trade war, but rather posed questions concerning the Middle East, Xinjiang, North Korea, and Taiwan.
The Biden administration stressed that it does not plan to abolish various regulations passed during the Trump administration’s term in the trade war with China, but it also does not intend to employ the same negotiation strategies as the Trump administration, which seemed to be very offensive. Besides, the Biden administration must be careful, If Biden prioritizes domestic challenges then China has room to push its agendas, including in the field of technology and territorial issues
Furthermore, the Biden administration’s policy has shifted from imposing tariffs on China to investing in industries that Biden believes are less competitive with China, such as nanotechnology and communication networks.
In conclusion, the trade war between the United States and China has ushered in a new age in the global economy, one in which China is going forward to replace the United States’ status as a world economic force, something that the United States fears.
The door to investment is being opened as broad as possible, the private sector is being encouraged to participate (under tight government oversight, of course), the cost of living is being raised, and the defense spending is being expanded. Today, we can see how the Chinese economy is advancing, becoming the world’s second largest economy after the United States, selling goods all over the world to challenge the United States’ status, and even having the world’s largest military after the United States.
The rise of China is what the US is scared of; after initially dismissing China’s problem as insignificant, the US under the Trump administration takes China and Xi Jinping’s problems seriously by starting a trade war that is still underway.
Will this trade war enter a new chapter in the Biden presidency, where the relationship with China will be more ‘calm’ and the trade war can be ended, or can it stalemate and maintain the stance as during the previous president’s presidency?
*Hafizha Dwi Ulfa is a Research Assistant of the Indonesian International Relations Study Center (IIRS Center) with analysis focus on ASEAN, East Asia, and Indo-Pacific studies.
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