21 Nov 2023    Working Papers

EU Imported Biodiversity Loss - The Gaps and Overlaps Between Trade Impact and Provisions on Biodiversity in EU Free Trade Agreements

WTI Working Paper No. 13/2023 by Justine Muller


‘People assume that we can carry on destroying biodiversity without consequence. This is not the case. It's bad news for people, economies and business’. Biological diversity encompasses the diversity within species (genetic), between species (variety) and of ecosystems and it is currently experiencing a crisis. Despite a growing awareness of the issue, biodiversity is widely misunderstood and negative impacts from human activities, including international trade, are often underestimated. For the last decade, mentions of the environment have been growing in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between the European Union (EU) and partner countries. Since the development of the so-called EU ‘New Generation’ FTAs, new EU trade agreements contain dedicated chapters on sustainable development that are more and more detailed and may include provisions on specific areas of environmental protection such as biodiversity. Much thought has been given to their enforceability but little to their content. Hence, many questions about their potential and actual effect remain. One of them asks whether the environmental provisions could mitigate the negative influence of the FTA itself on the environment.

Focusing on biodiversity, this chapter aims to answer this question by exposing the gaps and overlaps between the impact of trade on biodiversity and the core biodiversity-related provisions of EU trade agreements’ Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters. It does so, firstly, by exposing the negative impacts of trade on biodiversity and presenting the rationale behind the inclusion of biodiversity-related provisions in EU trade agreements (Section II). Secondly, by presenting the main goals of the relevant environmental clause in EU FTAs (Section III). Taking archetypal examples from the EU’s most recent FTAs, the chapter undertakes a textual analysis of clauses relevant to the protection of biodiversity. Thirdly, the chapter identifies the gaps and overlaps between these main goals and the negative impacts of, or enhanced by, trade on biodiversity (Section III). Gaps are identified when an EU FTA exerts or enhances a negative effect on biodiversity (directly or through embedded biodiversity loss) but no biodiversity-related provision in the FTA aims to mitigate this effect. On the contrary, overlaps are found when such provisions may be capable of countering this negative effect of the FTA on biodiversity.

About the author

Justine Muller is a PhD researcher at the European University Institute (EUI) with expertise in the nexus between trade and the environment. She is currently writing her PhD thesis on the integration of biodiversity protection in the European Union’s preferential trade agreements. Her research mixes doctrinal analysis with innovative methods such as text mining and ecology. She also considers different perspectives on the trade and environment nexus, including the decolonial or ecosystem approaches.

Justine holds Master degrees in international business law (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France), law and sustainable development (University of Strathclyde; Scotland), and biodiversity geography (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France). She has experience in international negotiations as an assistant to the European Union’s delegation to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem but also as a teaching assistant at the School of Transnational Governance (Florence, Italy).

EU Imported Biodiversity Loss - The Gaps and Overlaps Between Trade Impact and Provisions on Biodiversity in EU Free Trade Agreements