05 Feb 2021, 13:38
Benjamin Wehrmann

German development minister says lobby groups prevent sustainability in global trade

Der Tagesspiegel / Tagesschau

German development cooperation minister Gerd Müller said lobby groups prevent the strengthening of sustainability and climate action chapters in international trade agreements, reports newspaper Tagesspiegel. Speaking at a conference in Berlin, Müller of the conservative CSU said governments know fully well what is needed to tackle the climate crisis, but the "political will is lacking" to act. His comments came ahead of a government coalition meeting that could decide the fate of a new supply chain law in the country. Müller and his Social Democrat (SPD) government colleague labour minister Hubertus Heil have pushed for the law that would compel companies, from carmakers to coffee retailers, to make their sourcing of materials more transparent as well as introducing regulations to hold suppliers accountable if they fail to meet certain social or environmental standards. Trade agreements such as the Mercosur deal between Europe and South America, where soy and palm oil trade is seen as problematic due to slash-and-burn practices, showed how powerful lobby groups use their influence to avoid tougher enforcement of sustainability criteria, said Müller. He also said international climate action efforts should put greater emphasis on avoiding a lock-in of fossil power sources in developing countries, pointing out that 400 new coal plants are currently being built or planned in Africa alone. A possibility would be to include Africa more comprehensively in the EU's Green Deal and assist countries there in putting their economies on a more sustainable pathway. "Our neighbour continent can become a green continent of renewable energy," Müller said, adding he could not understand why the EU has not given Africa greater attention in its climate plans so far.

Many companies have rejected the proposed supply chain law and the economy ministry so far has been reluctant to greenlight the initiative on the grounds that it would pose an insurmountable burden to businesses. But the environment agency (UBA) says that it would not only be possible for companies but also in their own interests to better control how the materials they use are being sourced. Public broadcast news service Tagesschau reported that Müller and Heil have offered economy minister Peter Altmaier a revised proposal that would reduce the legal accountability for companies by creating an independent control authority to supervise compliance without directly involving courts. Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly stated that she supports a supply chain law but warned that it should not overstretch the capacities of companies, particularly smaller ones.

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