On 26 February, I chaired a discussion at Chatham House in London on human rights impact assessments (HRIA) of trade agreements. The basis for the discussion was a report authored by Dr. Jennifer Zerk, Chatham House Associate Fellow in the International Law Programme. This important report very usefully outlines the substantial challenges of carrying out HRIAs of whole trade agreements in a manner that yields useful data that can convincingly help policymakers design trade agreements that embed respect for human rights and protect the most vulnerable members of society.
Despite the thrust of the report, which was demonstrating the weaknesses in using HRIAs for whole trade agreements, Dr. James Harrison of the University of Warwick School of Law provided several examples of successful HRIAs where they have helped policymakers understand the impacts of trade provisions. However, as he clearly pointed out, those successful assessments have all been carried out in very specific contexts regarding either one set of trade provisions or a specific government measure. Additionally, successful HRIAs have often looked at a subset of human rights issues over time.
Richard James, the Evaluation Co-ordinator for the Directorate-General for Trade of the European Commission, described the evolution in the thinking at the Commission and some ways forward to improve the actual impact of the assessments being carried out. As of yet, however, there seems to be little evidence that the results of the impact assessments being carried out at EU level have directly influenced the formulation of trade policy.
In my view, ex ante HRIAs of an entire trade agreement just cannot deliver the kinds of data that can effectively help design human rights compliant trade policy. Consider just these three challenges:
HRIAs cannot address investment parts […]