A New Circular Economy Action Plan for all

Trade policy is the best way for the EU to promote the values of the European Green Deal and the circular economy, argues Svenja Hahn.
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By Svenja Hahn

Svenja Hahn (DE, RE) is the INTA Committee opinion rapporteur on Parliament’s New Circular Economy Action Plan

05 Oct 2020

The trade aspect of the New Circular Economy Action Plan is particularly important, as trade is the best way to promote the European Green Deal and the EU’s sustainability agenda on a global level.

In the interconnected global economy, the EU needs to encourage others to join them on the path to a sustainable future. It’s important that we include the objectives of the circular economy in our trade agreements, as this is the EU’s main avenue for soft power.

The agreements should include strong, binding and enforceable sustainable development chapters, making it possible to promote climate-neutral, resource-efficient and competitive business models. They should also encourage trade in recycled, rather than raw, materials whenever possible while avoiding protectionism.

“Taking a deep look at the circular economy, it’s clear that creating a comprehensive EU legal framework in this field must be the starting point”

Taking a deeper look at the circular economy, it’s clear that the starting point must be to create a comprehensive EU legal framework in this field. Surprisingly, there are almost no legal definitions, or even a common understanding, of what constitutes recyclable waste at international level. It is obvious that defining these concepts, as well as common legal standards within the EU, is essential so that we can also push for global recognition.

This will be also be important to ensure that waste treatment facilities outside the EU meet our standards, or that the same understanding of recycling and its quality will be implemented. These are crucial aspects in establishing a level playing field.

Another important aspect of enhancing recycling and waste management within the EU, as part of circularity, is the impact on countries outside the EU that strongly rely on waste imports or on exports of raw materials. Many developing countries have built economies on importing waste for recycling or exporting virgin raw materials.

A fall in EU waste exports and increasing use of recycled raw materials will obviously affect these countries. Therefore, particular attention must be paid to building strong partnerships with less-developed countries, so that they can also benefit from the green transition and the circular economy.

Following the principle of proportionality of legislation, special attention should be paid to the needs of the EU’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to support them in implementing their business strategies for exporting circular economy products.

There is a huge untapped potential among SMEs when it comes to exports, particularly as part of the circular economy. The move from a linear economic model to a circular one will also help the EU work to its the goal of achieving strategic autonomy, which has grown in importance during the Covid-19 crisis.

In order to build a more resilient economy, our Single Market needs to depend less on imports, and supply chains need to be diversified. Increasing the level of recycling can help us reach this goal. The EU has significant room for improvement when it comes to recycling and reusing raw materials. And I am convinced that moving towards a circular economy will be a significant advantage for us when making our economy and businesses fit for a global and responsible future, particularly in the post-Covid-19 recovery.


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