02 Jun 2022

EU-China cooperation on ‘green’ and ’social’ values

An assessment

Weinian Hu / Jacques Pelkmans

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The EU has long been concerned about sustainable development in China, i.e. the ‘green’ pillar (environment & climate) and in the ‘social’ pillar (core labour standards and social protection). The EU and China have pursued active and ever more intense cooperation in these areas for some 20-25 years. However, as the EU and China do not have a free trade area agreement, there has never been a sustainable development chapter.

As the EU-China case clearly shows, the lack of such a chapter doesn’t need to be an impediment: EU-China ‘green’ and ‘social’ cooperation has  been remarkably active, with a widening scope over time, showing considerable results. Indeed, the EU has not built up such a huge – though informal – framework of green and social cooperation with any other trading partner.

Based on three research questions in both pillars, the authors have examined indicators and policies as well as degrees of convergence over time (with appreciable time lags). The surprising, but still ongoing, process of convergence in the green pillar seems to go further than that of the social pillar, although recent developments stimulated by the CAI draft investment treaty have resulted in China ratifying two more core ILO conventions. This CEPS Policy Insight then ends with a short reflection on the prospects of sustainable development cooperation with China.

The project leading to this paper received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 770680 (RESPECT).