Trade and investments

Trade and investment agreements come in all shapes and sizes. Trade agreements should facilitate fair and equitable trade between the parties, while investment agreements should promote international investment. Although such agreements may be concluded on an equitable basis, experience unfortunately shows that the economically stronger party usually benefits the most, that decision-making lacks transparency and that, generally speaking, agreements are often especially disadvantageous to developing countries.

The network of international agreements is large and complex. The Netherlands alone has signed more than 90 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and is party to the trade and investment agreements concluded by the EU. For people and the environment in developing countries, current international trade and investment policy brings a lot of disadvantages.

Binding agreements vs. voluntary social and environmental criteria

Unlike international agreements on the environment and human rights, economic treaties and rules are not only binding but can be enforced through penalties and trade sanctions. As a consequence, agreements on protection of people and the environment can be undermined by more binding agreements on trade and investment.

Free trade is not equitable

Generally speaking, trade agreements and free trade by no means always promote fair and equitable trade. The economies of developing countries are often not sufficiently developed to withstand international competition. Despite international recognition that developing countries cannot always go as far as richer countries, in negotiations the rich countries do try and get the best deal possible for their own businesses and economic interests.

Investment protection

A special investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause in investment treaties can allow investors to get around the jurisdiction of national courts. New government measures, such as changes in national environmental legislation, can lead to substantial claims from investors who think the new rules may affect their profits. If the state has to take such potential claims into account every time it introduces new measures, this acts as a powerful brake on the introduction of new legislation, even if it is in the interest of society as a whole.

Decision-making is not transparent

Trade and investment agreements can therefore restrict a country's or society's influence on their own living environment, education and health care. Despite this, the negotiations on the agreements are often not transparent. Consequently, there is little public discussion and, frequently, even parliaments barely involved in the negotiations.

Both ENDS is calling at all policy-making levels for international economic legislation, agreements and rules to be changed so that they do not undermine human rights and the environment. We are also calling for developing countries be given certain exemptions in negotiations on trade and investment agreements, so that they have the opportunity to develop their economies. In these campaigns, we work together with civil society organisations in developing countries, which we provide with information to enable them to take action to influence their own policy-makers.

Our work on the subject of Trade and investments

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    Transformative Practice

    Analog Forestry

    Analog forestry is a transformative approach to the ecological restoration of degraded lands. Natural forests are used as guides to create ecologically sustainable landscapes, which support the social and economical needs of local communities.
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    Uganda’s Energy Future

    Despite the existence of many hydropower dams, foreign investments and large government spending on energy, and new plans for hydropower, oil and gas projects, the vast majority of rural Uganda still remains without electricity. Together with our local partners we are striving towards a sustainable energy strategy for Uganda that starts from the needs and wishes of local communities.
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    Make Innovations work for all: reframing Intellectual Property Rights

    It sounds so logical: patents and other intellectual property rights protect investments in innovations, allowing more innovations to be made from which the whole world can benefit. Such as new medicines or drought-resistant crops. But in practice, these property rights often have the opposite effect, hindering access to innovations for those who need them the most.
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    The Netherlands, the world and the elections

    Elections are soon to be held in the Netherlands. The political parties are sharpening their knives and have outlined their plans in hefty manifestos. Not surprisingly, they mainly focus on domestic issues. International themes are primarily addressed in terms of opportunities for Dutch companies and threats in areas like health, privacy and competition that we need to protect ourselves against. But if we want to make the Netherlands sustainable, we especially need to look at our footprint beyond our own borders and make every effort to reduce it. In the weeks leading up to the elections, Both ENDS looks at where the parties' manifestos offer opportunities to achieve that.
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    Everything becomes fluid under pressure: behind the scenes in Corona time

    In these times of worldwide lockdown all attention is focused on the care sector, on the sorrow of those who are losing their loved ones, on children getting home-schooling and the neighbour who can no longer go the supermarket herself. Politicians and civil servants are hard at work trying to control the COVID-19 crisis and the economic crisis it has caused.
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    Rights for People, Rules for Corporations – Stop ISDS!

    Indigenous communities in Paraguay saw their attempts to regain their ancestral lands thwarted by German investors. In Indonesia, US-based mining companies succeeded to roll back new laws that were meant to boost the country’s economic development and protect its forests.  This is the level of impact that investment treaties can have on social, environmental and economic development and rights. Why? Because of the ‘Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement’ clauses that are included in many such treaties.
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