On 8 December, the Peru Support Group, as part of the European-wide coalition Peru European Platform (PEP), travelled to Brussels to attend an open civil society forum hosted by the European Commission. Delegates from Peru, Colombia and the EU civil society gathered to discuss the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement’s provisions on sustainable development contained in Title IX of the FTA treaty.

Title IX is designed to enable civil society organisations representing different sectors (labour, environment and business) to get together, discuss and come up with joint solutions to perceived non-compliance with sustainable development principles.

The FTA and sustainable development

The FTA between the European Union, Colombia and Peru (with Ecuador joining next year) came into force in 2013 to liberalise trade and investment between the parties. To ensure that FTAs do not cause economic disparities that damage local communities, any agreement needs to integrate fully human rights and economic and environmental safeguards, thus helping to generate equitable and sustainable development.

The relevant provisions are included in Title IX, the objectives of Title IX are, among others, “to promote dialogue and cooperation between the Parties with a view to facilitating the implementation of the provisions of this Title”. They should seek to “strengthen compliance with the labour and environmental legislation of each party, as well as with the commitments deriving from the international conventions and agreements (…); strengthen the role of trade and trade policy in the promotion of conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and of natural resources (…); and promote public participation in the matters covered in this Title”.

To ensure proper monitoring of Title IX, the parties commit themselves to “review, monitor and assess the impact of the implementation of this Agreement on labour and environment (…) through its respective domestic and participative processes”.

Subcommittee on Trade and Sustainable Development, and the DAGs

Equally important to Title IX was the establishment of a Subcommittee on Trade and Sustainable Development to monitor the implementation of sustainable development provisions and the formation of Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs) through which each party can submit opinions and make recommendations on the implementation of Title IX.

All DAGs are supposed to meet once a year to strengthen coordination between the parties. It is here that civil society participation is crucial, as these are spaces that offer the opportunity to express concerns about the implementation of free trade provisions and to hold the parties to account. The third and latest meeting of the DAGs took place in Brussels on 7 December, followed by an open forum the following day between civil society representatives from Peru, Colombia and the EU, and government subcommittee representatives.

The meeting enabled civil society representatives to question their government counterparts and take note of their response. Civil society groups were also able to work on a joint civil society statement, outlining a number of issues on which they think government compliance is essential for Title IX provisions to be fulfilled. On the Peruvian side, these included concerns about the legislative, institutional and operational changes to environmental regulations that threaten environmental standards and undermine the territorial rights of indigenous groups.

Peruvian government representatives were challenged twice during Q&A on the weakening of environmental controls. On both occasions they responded that the norms which had been introduced, particularly Law 30230, were in full accordance with international trade treaties. This flies in the face of many examples that demonstrate the negative effects the law is having on local communities, contributing to social conflicts such as the conflict at Las Bambas. See
https://www.oefa.gob.pe/?wpfb_dl=17030 and specifically p43, ‘Caso Las Bambas’.

Towards greater civil society participation

This was the first time that video-conferencing was used to improve and widen country representation. In the past, these meetings have suffered from a lack of civil society participation given the difficulties and expense of travel. Although internet connection access problems made for limitations here, the use of virtual representation was a positive step. To improve communication further, it was suggested that civil society organisations in each country should establish coordinated representation with named members.

To date, only the European DAG has been officially formed, while there have been moves in this direction by Colombia; indeed, the Colombian authorities openly referred to this during the open forum. But for Peru, government representatives remains unequivocal that there is no need for a specific DAG since channels already exist for civil society participation on different issues and within different sectors.

While it is true that there are commissions within some ministries that involve civil society, there is still a need for an officially recognised group to liaise with counterparts in Europe and Colombia. We believe it is urgent that the Peruvian authorities address this need and work together with civil society organisations to form a Peruvian DAG. Hopefully, Colombia will provide an example here for Peru to follow.

In a joint statement, the Sub-Committee on Trade and Sustainable Development agreed to “accelerate (…) interaction in order to develop concrete proposals on a bilateral basis taking into account (…) priorities and the outcome of the previous meetings of the Subcommittee (June 2015)”. This suggests that the parties were listening to concerns about the importance of improving coordination and dialogue to develop a positive and shared agenda. Let’s hope this lead to practical actions.