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News Desk

The Express Tribune

Published Date: Dec 12, 2017

Involve civil society in trade agreements

The involvement of civil society in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) is crucial, especially for sustainable development.
“However, few nations have allowed involvement of the civil society in finalising FTAs,” said Professor Dr Jan Orbie, the director of the Centre for EU Studies while delivering a special lecture on the “role of civil society organisations in EU trade agreements” at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Monday.
Dr Orbie said that while exploring European markets through the FTAs, Pakistan should ascertain the role of the civil society, as well as its effectiveness in recommending institutional and legal changes.
He added that more structured and regular dialogue should be held to make the process more efficient and effective.
While referring to his studies, he said that his findings critically reflected on the involvement of civil society actors in the sustainable development chapters of recent EU trade agreements.
Further, he said that the study discussed how civil society mechanisms may legitimise the underlying neoliberal orientation of the agreements through co-optation of critical actors.
Dr Orbie observed that from a critical perspective and drawing on evidence from innovative survey data, qualitative interviews and participatory observations, the report concluded that, despite overall criticism, there is no clear evidence of co-optation.
"While being aware of the risks their participation entailed, EU participants take a constructive position. Nevertheless, diverging perspectives between non-profit and business actors risk reinforcing existing power asymmetries," he explained.
The EU Studies director added that the recent trade agreements concluded by the European Union include an elaborate chapter on ‘Sustainable Development’, which was a key element of the EU’s cooperative approach towards promoting sustainable development through trade agreements together with civil society dialogues.
Despite the efforts put in by the EU trade machinery, Dr Orbie conceded that the exact purpose of these civil society meetings and their impact on sustainable development remain unclear and thus, required to be made focused and elaborate.