Minding other states' business: free trade, fair trade and clean trade in the EU

The way goods are produced may affect the environment, the rights of workers, or other societal interests. When we purchase goods we may want to take this into account. Sometimes governments do this on our behalf: products may be taxed, prohibited, or required to bear labels, according to the environmental sustainability or social impact of their production.

However, the countries that produce the goods often react angrily to this, seeing it as interference in their internal affairs: 'it's our forest, our environment, you don't understand our economic situation, children need to work..' and so on. In particular, it is often poor countries that produce, and rich countries that are concerned about the production method. Accusations are made of 'neo-colonialism' and that 'we' are imposing 'luxury concerns' on 'them'. Would the West have got rich if it had cared about such things?

There is a genuine tension between legitimate perspectives. The resulting disagreements take place within a network of international law, including free trade agreements which bind states to accept products from each other, but also including clauses and agreements concerning environmental protection, international labour standards, human rights, and other interests.

In the scholarship and practice of international law much attention has been paid to this tension. However there has been no attention paid to the same issues in EU law. This proposal aims to fill that gap.

It has three aims: (1) to describe the extent to which EU law permits states to regulate products according to their production method, (2) to test the results of the first part against international law and other policy goals, in order to identify problems and conflicts, and (3) to propose improvements to the law, with the aim of reconciling interests and resolving conflicts to the greatest degree possible.