The Peru Support Group took part in a series of events held in Brussels earlier this month to mark the five-year anniversary of the Trade Agreement (TA) between the European Union, Peru, Colombia and (for the past two years) Ecuador. Civil society representatives from Peru, Colombia and Ecuador travelled to Brussels to speak about specific concerns in their respective countries.

The activities were organised by the Peru Europe Platform (PEP) and two Belgium-based organisations, Justice et Paix and the 11.11.11 coalition. The PSG forms part of the PEP. The aim was to raise awareness about impacts of the TA since its implementation, in particular Title IX on trade and sustainable development. The meetings sought to assess whether state parties were complying with their international obligations to respect and protect environmental and labour rights.

The first event was held on 5 November at the European Parliament. Participants included MEP Helmut Scholz, the special rapporteur in charge of delivering a report on the TA’s impact to date (due to be published early next year) and embassy representatives from Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Among the latter was the Peruvian ambassador.

Vanessa Cueto, president of Peruvian civil society organisation Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), stressed that “it is important that Peru promotes sustainable investment, that environmental standards are not weakened and that the institutions in charge of environmental oversight are strengthened”. She further stated that “it is necessary that the Peruvian government improves the mechanisms of dialogue and participation, and that it guarantees the monitoring of the implementation of Title IX on sustainable development, for which it must carry out an evaluation of its compliance in the past five years and incorporate environmental and labour safeguards; [the latter] not only for this TA but for other trade agreements [to which Peru is signatory]”.

As we have mentioned previously, under Title IX state signatories have to comply with international legal standards that protect labour and environmental rights. Title IX also contains a provision about civil society participation. This involves the formation of Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs) which can offer recommendations to the European Commission on provisions affecting sustainable development. The PEP currently holds the presidency of the European DAG.

With respect to a Peruvian DAG, civil society has also made significant efforts to establish such a channel for civil society participation. Peru’s reluctance to establish a Peruvian DAG is justified by the argument that existing mechanisms are sufficient. Faced with this, Peruvians have this year formed what they have called a ‘self-proclaimed’ Peruvian DAG. DAR forms part of this. But the Peruvian government has so far not recognised the formation of this group.

During the visit, the delegation also held meetings with members of the European Parliament, with the trade office of the European Commission (DG Trade), with members of INTA (the parliamentary group that oversees Latin America), and with representatives of the European External Action Service (EEAS). Finally, delegation members attended a public event hosted by Justice et Paix to discuss the implementation of trade agreements in the EU and their impact on sustainable development and human rights.

Two members of the European Parliament and a representative of the Belgian ministry of foreign affairs took part in the debate, discussing (among other things) the pros and cons of a sanctioning mechanism to enforce compliance. Title IX lacks a sanctioning mechanism. Many argue that without the possibility to impose sanctions, states are more likely to fail in their commitments to Title IX, thereby weakening its efficacy in guaranteeing environmental and labour rights standards.

The civil society complaint submitted last year against the Peruvian government for failure to comply with Title IX was one of the main talking points during the week’s discussions. It became evident that the complaint had had a significant impact. This was partly because it was the first of its kind, but also because the European Commission has taken the matter very seriously, making considerable efforts to investigate and ascertain the facts contained in the complaint.

Vanessa Cueto highlighted the impact of Commissioner Malmstrom’s letter to the Peruvian interior minister. She welcomed the recommendations laid out by the Commission, including the drawing up of an action plan to resolve those issues that affect compliance in respecting and protecting labour and environmental standards.

In October, a delegation from the EU Commission travelled to Peru to assess the situation and met with civil society organisations, industry and union representatives as well as government authorities from several ministries, including tourism and foreign trade, environment, and labour.

The European Commission has yet formally to respond to the civil society complaint. Its response is expected early in 2019.