November 30, 2020
The European Commission (Commission) has launched a centralized complaints system through which EU-registered companies, industry associations, trade unions and NGOs can report market access barriers or breaches by third countries of their ‘trade and sustainable development’ (TSD) commitments or commitments undertaken under the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP).
The centralized complaints system forms part of the Commission’s increased efforts in strengthening the enforcement and implementation of trade agreements that the EU has concluded with third countries and follows the appointment in July 2020 of the first Chief Trade Enforcement Officer (CTEO).
The stated objective of the centralized complaints system is to establish a more accessible, responsive, and structured process for handling complaints by the Commission’s Directorate General for Trade (DG Trade).
The centralized complaints system does not create an obligation for the Commission to pursue each and every complaint and provides for no deadlines for the Commission to act. Complainants will be informed as to whether the complaint leads to an enforcement action. If the Commission decides to take action, it will communicate an action plan and indicative timeline to the complainant. The Commission will prioritize the treatment of complaints on the basis of objective criteria such as the likelihood of resolving the issue, the legal basis, and the economic/systemic impact of market access barriers and the seriousness of the violation of the TSD and GSP commitments.
The entry into force of this new complaints mechanism is accompanied by the Commission’s Operating Guidelines as well as the Commission’s Working Approaches which set out the ways in which the different elements of the EU’s recent enforcement efforts are meant to operate together.
The centralized complaints system is part of the Commission’s broader enforcement toolkit. The Commission will continue with the overall monitoring of trade barriers and how third countries implement their TSD/GSP commitments. In this, the Commission relies on its network of delegations and on information provided by Member States.
It remains to be seen how many formal complaints will be lodged by the various stakeholders and how many complaints DG Trade will be willing to formally pursue. If sufficient resources are dedicated at DG Trade to reviewing and effectively pursuing stakeholders’ complaints, the centralized complaints system could play an important role in the Commission’s wider push for reaffirming the EU’s economic interest with major trading partners; together with bolder trade defence enforcement and the proposed new mechanism to control foreign State subsidies in the EU.
 Official Press Release available at: https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=2213.
 The complaint forms are accessible at: https://trade.ec.europa.eu/access-to-markets/en/contact-form.
 For more information on the CTEO’s competences please refer to: https://ec.europa.eu/trade/trade-policy-and-you/contacts/chief-trade-enforcement-officer/.
 For the full text of the Commission’s Operating Guidelines of 16 November 2020, please refer to: https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2020/november/tradoc_159074.pdf.
 For the full text of the Commission’s Working Approaches of 16 November 2020, please refer to: https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2020/november/tradoc_159075.pdf.
 Chapter 22 of the CETA contains provisions on sustainable development. With this Chapter, both sides agree to ensure economic growth supports their social and environmental goals. The chapter also creates a Joint Committee on Trade and Sustainable Development, and commits both sides to promoting forums with interest groups.
 Chapter 13 of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement contains commitments on sustainable development relating to sustainable management of forests and trade in forest and fish products, the conservation and the sustainable use of biological diversity etc.
 For a full list of EU trade agreements which include rules on trade and sustainable development, please refer to: https://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/policy-making/sustainable-development/.
 Gibson Dunn Client Alert of 24 June 2020, regarding the European Commission’s imposition of countervailing duties on imports from Egypt for subsidies provided by China, available at: https://www.gibsondunn.com/european-commission-imposes-countervailing-duties-on-imports-from- egypt-for-subsidies-provided-by-china/.
 Gibson Dunn Client Alert of 18 June 2020, regarding the European Commission’s White Paper on Foreign Subsidies, available at: https://www.gibsondunn.com/european-commission-publishes-white-paper-on-foreign-subsidies-political-power-meets-legal-ambiguity/.
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