Trade experts gather to discuss the future of sustainable trade in Geneva

Geneva, 14-15 November 2016 - The World Trade Organization (WTO) held its second Committee on Trade and the Environment meeting of 2016 this week in Geneva, focused on promoting sustainable development through trade.

UN Environment participated as an official observer to the proceedings which covered topics including sustainability in fisheries and agriculture, fossil fuel subsidy reform, protection of endangered species, and chemical and waste trading. The meeting brought together representatives from states in addition to international organizations involved in trade and the environment such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). 

During the proceedings, FAO stressed the need for action on sustainable fishery practices worldwide. The organization highlighted the necessity to increase global food production by 60% by 2050 to sustain a projected population of 9 billion people. As roughly 10% of the global population depends on fisheries for their livelihoods, there will be clear knock-on effects on income and wellbeing if sustainable trade practices are not implemented worldwide. The organization also emphasized the commitments made by 90 countries in July of this year as part of a joint FAO- UN Environment- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) initiative to end harmful fishing subsidies. 

Fossil fuel subsidy reform, a longstanding and contentious topic at the intersection of trade and environment, was presented by New Zealand during the proceedings. This emphasized a major worldwide commitment to the reduction of greenhouse gases, in line with the principles outlined in the Paris Agreement, which entered into force earlier this month. 

The attention then turned to sustainable trade and species preservation. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) presented an update from the Conference of Parties (CoP) 17, held this year in Johannesburg. The Secretary-General of CITES, John E Scanlon, described the conference as “the most critical meeting in the 43-year history of CITES for the world’s wildlife,” due to the expansion of the convention to include trade of timber, including rosewood timber, which has previously contributed to mass deforestation in parts of Africa and South Asia. As Senegal identified, the inclusion of timber under CITES control will strengthen the efforts of countries dealing with the illegal trade of timber, while preserving important habitat areas and protecting biodiversity.

The interconnectedness of trade and the environment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was emphasized through discussion on chemicals and waste, a topic which impacts health, the natural environment and economic prosperity. Although waste itself is not illegal, as stated by the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Executive Secretary Rolph Payet, the transboundary movement of waste in violation of applicable rules of law is. UNIDO identified e-waste as the fastest growing stream of waste (49 tons of waste calculated in 2012), which faces a multitude of challenges including management barriers in regulatory deficiencies and loopholes, limited recycling options, and the nature of its transboundary movement. As much waste is transferred to developing countries for breakdown and disposal, vulnerable populations experience the negative health impacts of this trade in disproportionate measure. Many delegations underlined the steps they have taken to control the transboundary movement of waste, focused on institutional collaboration and policymaking. Chile, for example, adopted a legal framework which extends producer responsibility and promotion of recycling towards achieving SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production patterns.  

Finally, UN Environment shared the steps it is taking to continue dialogue and action related to sustainable trade. Since the last CTE meeting, the Environment and Trade Hub has created a Sustainability Toolkit for Trade Negotiators to help stakeholders better understand, draft and negotiate environment-related provisions in regional trade and investment agreements, held a workshop on trade and technology which discussed the nexus of the two and its role in achieving the SDGs, implemented an e-learning course on trade and green economy in partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and engaged in country-based activities under the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) working with partners in China, Ghana, Mongolia, Peru and South Africa on trade and green economy, among many other activities.

The meeting of the committee provided a forum for discussion on the important link between trade and the environment. While much is being done to make trade more sustainable, much work remains to be undertaken, achieved through knowledge sharing, inclusive capacity building and cooperation among all key actors at the intersection of trade and environment.


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