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5 Jan 2022

Sarah Anne Aarup, Politico

EU: Commission criticized for ignoring Domestic Advisory Groups aimed to engage civil society in trade agreements negotiations

"Brussels gets flak for disregarding trade deal watchdogs", 5 January 2022

Members of civil society groups are accusing the European Commission and its trading partners of turning a blind eye to monitoring groups set up to police countries’ sustainability commitments enshrined in EU trade pacts.

A decade ago, Brussels created domestic advisory groups — or DAGs for short — made up of NGOs and businesses to keep an eye on its trade agreements, in an attempt to clinch wider public support for deals often viewed as being cooked up by technocrats...

But in practice, the assemblies are disparate and little-known groups that amount to talking shops, which the Commission and countries disregard, according to members of the groups. Someone with experience in the advisory bodies told POLITICO that they’re essentially a fig leaf to compensate for the lack of real enforcement of the sustainable development chapters...

There are major discrepancies between how partner countries deal with their advisers. Canada’s groups work smoothly according to Tanja Buzek, who’s a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and DAG coordinator, whereas others like the ones in Vietnam, some Latin American countries and Japan are dysfunctional...

[O}ne of the more disturbing cases is Vietnam's advisory body. Hanoi arrested journalist Mai Phan Lợi and environmental lawyer Đặng Đình Bách after they had both reportedly applied to join the group. This month, Mai was indicted on what NGO Reporters Without Borders call “trumped up” charges of tax fraud. Hanoi’s current civil society monitoring squad only contains three members, including two very close to the Vietnamese state...