EU Concerned Over Sustainability Of Rapid Growth; Commissions Studies

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Brussels, June 26: | Updated: Jun 27 2003, 05:30am hrs
Is it protectionism, directed primarily at textile and clothing exporters in countries such as India and China Or does it reflect a genuine concern for the unfavourable impact of unfettered competition on working conditions, the environment - and even economic growth and development

The fact is that Pascal Lamy, the chief trade negotiator for the 15-nation European Union (EU), is genuinely concerned about the sustainability of rapid economic growth. Sufficiently concerned, in any case, to devote 10% of his departments budget to sustainability impact assessment (SIA) studies carried out by independent experts. Sufficiently concerned to send one of his key trade officials to underline the importance of SIA studies to the European textile and clothing industry - which is one of the worlds biggest, with a turnover of some $186 billion last year and a labour force of over two million.

Nor is the EUs Trade Commissioner alone in devoting time and money to the issue of sustainable growth and development. Only last week representatives from 60 countries had reached an agreement, at a UN-sponsored meeting in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, on mapping out a 10-year framework plan for revising patterns of production and consumption, so as to turn international commitments on sustainable behaviour into reality.

The meeting was a follow-up to the 2002 Johannesburg Summit, which agreed to accelerate the shift towards sustainable lifestyles that promote social and economic development for all. The Marrakech meeting identified a number of key priorities for the framework plan, including the development of policies aimed at integrating the economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainable behaviour.

The EUs Trade Commissioner views SIA as a tool to assess the economic, social and environmental implications of a given policy. This methodology was developed by his department in 1999 for use in negotiations at the World Trade Organisation. India, China, Bangladesh and Brazil are the subject of country-specific SIA case studies funded by Commissioner Lamys department, while a more general study which it has funded deals with market access in textiles and clothing (as well as pharmaceuticals and non-ferrous metals).

The reasoning behind Mr Lamys concern for sustainable development was outlined by his director for international trade relations, including bilateral relations with Asia, Robert Madelin. Speaking at the recent annual general meeting of Euratex, the Brussels-based employers organization which represents the European textile and clothing industry, Mr Madelin explained the importance of SIA studies to the industry.

Business, he told his audience of executives from European textile and clothing companies and the heads of the national and regional organizations representing the industry from Finland to Turkey, must care about sustainable development because we are living in an atmosphere that is anti-business and anti-globalization, that is driven by fears based on the activities of a few big multinationals.

Indeed, no sooner was the market access study commissioned by Mr Lamy completed, than Mr Madelin discussed its contents with representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other elements of civil society. For some, the social consequences of trade liberalisation will be more important than the experts claim, both for developing countries and for Europe, where it could result in accelerated job losses. Thus the pace at which clothing production is being transferred from the EU itself to neighbouring countries, including the 10 which will join the EU next May, has speeded up.

Mr. Madelin explained why the textile and clothing industry has a substantial impact on sustainable development: (1) It is often seen by developing countries as a key sector in their efforts to achieve economic development. (2) The pesticides used in cotton production and the discharges of waste water during textile production can harm the environment. Indeed, Indi and China, where production is expected to increase, will have to take stronger measures to prevent environmental damage. (3) Labour conditions and gender are important issues in the textile and clothing sector.