EU-VIETNAM FTA: European parliament calls for monitoring mechanism on human rights and independent complaints mechanism

On 12 February 2020, the European parliament (EP), while giving consent to the EU-Vietnam FTA (EVFTA), emphasized the lack of sufficient human rights safeguards and addressed a clear and strong message to the European Commission and the EU Member states that improvements must be undertaken.

The EP underlined that the comprehensive and binding chapter on Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) that covers EU policy objectives on labour and environmental rights ‘could be significantly improved, in the first place through consideration of, among various enforcement methods, a sanction-based mechanism as a last resort, and secondly through a reform of the Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) system, as repeatedly called for by Parliament and also mentioned in the mission letter for the new EU Trade Commissioner.

FIDH and its member organisation, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), have been mobilised throughout the entire process, filing the original complaint against the European Commission for its failure to carry out a prior human rights impact of the EUVFTA. This complaint was upheld by the European Ombudsman who concluded on 26 February 2016 that the Commission’s refusal constituted maladministration. The EP recalls this decision and regrets that ‘the Commission has failed to undertake a comprehensive human rights impact assessment of the FTA; calls on the Commission to carry out such an assessment; asks it to systematically include human rights in its impact assessments as and when they are carried out, including for trade agreements that have significant economic, social and environmental impacts; points out that the Commission has also committed to carrying out an ex post economic, social and environmental impact assessment.

Recalling FIDH’s recommendations, the EP called for the prompt establishment and implementation of broad and independent DAGs, highlighting the paramount importance of the involvement of independent civil society and social partners in monitoring the implementation of the agreement. In particular, the EP called for a ‘broad and balanced representation of independent, free and diverse civil society organisations within those (DAG) groups, including independent Vietnamese organisations from the labour and environmental sectors as well as human rights defenders.

FIDH has consistently advocated for an independent human rights monitoring mechanism and an independent complaints mechanism. The EP now calls on the EU and Vietnam to set this up in order to provide ‘affected citizens and local stakeholders with effective recourse to remedy, and a tool to address potential negative impacts on human rights, notably through the application of the state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism to the TSD chapter’. Consequently, the EP calls on the (EU-Vietnam) Joint Committee to immediately begin work on strengthening the enforcement of the TSD provisions.

In its resolution on the EU-Vietnam investment protection agreement (IPA) voted the same day, the EP stated that it was not convinced regarding human rights safeguards. The trade and investment relationship between the EU and Vietnam must ‘promote trade and investment in full compliance with internationally recognised human rights, environmental and labour standards and agreements.’ In line with FIDH’s demands, the EP stresses the responsibilities of investors as outlined in the OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the obligation for all Parties and investors to respect all relevant international human rights standards and obligations. Moreover, both the PCA and the FTA along with a system of periodic evaluation, ‘provide tools to address human rights concerns related to the implementation of the IPA, but must be accompanied by scrutiny by the EU and its Member States, and by an independent monitoring and complaints mechanism, providing affected citizens and stakeholders with effective recourse to remedy and a tool to address potential negative impacts on human rights.

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