18 December 2017
SDG Knowledge Weekly: Trade in the Context of the 2030 Agenda
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The World Trade Organization (WTO) convened its Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) hosted the Trade and Sustainable Development Symposium, and released a guide to MC 11, as well as papers on fossil fuel subsidy reform and fisheries.

Other reports cover trade and the environment, and how the international system can tackle climate change.

This week’s brief looks at trade in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, following the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11), which convened from 10-13 December 2017, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This meeting of the WTO’s highest decision-making body opened just over a month after the 70th anniversary of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the WTO’s predecessor.

Expectations varied going into the Ministerial, due in part to looming questions around the US level of commitment, which some reported as being a hindrance to the meeting’s outcome, citing US non-engagement and a lack of deals. There were also complaints relating to some civil society members’ credentials being revoked. Progress on a range of issues continued, despite these hurdles: draft decisions and documents may be found here, the program of official side events is here, and statements and position papers submitted to MC11 by NGOs and business associations are available here.

Prior to MC11’s kick-off, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) published a special issue of the Bridges Negotiation Briefing. This guide covers topics discussed at MC11, including fisheries, agriculture, e-commerce, development, gender, investment facilitation, fossil fuel subsidies and services. ICTSD also tracked the discussions during the Conference; a wrap-up piece is available here. Alongside the official ministerial, ICTSD hosted its biennial Trade and Sustainable Development Symposium (TSDS) from 11-13 December 2017. Intended to complement the WTO proceedings, the TSDS featured plenaries on: the global economy, 2030 Agenda and prospects for trade; the future of the global trade system and the WTO; and Latin American challenges in the new global economy.

On fisheries, an SDG Knowledge Hub policy brief highlights hot-button issues such as fisheries subsidies’ contribution to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and outlines related publications and WTO releases that fed into MC11. On the margins of MC11, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) hosted a discussion in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the Commonwealth and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on ‘Fish Trade, Fisheries Subsidies and SDG 14.’ The event aimed to build greater understanding among trade negotiators on trends in, and the significance of, fish products vis-à-vis international trade, as well as instruments applicable to fisheries, and barriers in fish trade.

Although the WTO reported that MC11 ended with decisions around fish subsidies and e-commerce, other sources (UNCTAD, SDG Knowledge Hub, and Seafoodsource) point out that the decision was to take a decision by 2019, especially in the context of SDG target 14.6. A research paper by ICTSD titled, ‘Options for Improving the Transparency of Fisheries Subsidies,’ aims to add to the body of knowledge on implementing SDG target 14.6. The paper offers background information on notification requirements under the GATT and WTO, discusses proposals to include fisheries information in required notifications, and provides an initial feasibility assessment via a review of data currently collected by FAO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A complementary opinion blog is also available. A ICTSD paper on fossil fuel subsidy reform (FFSR) reviews lessons from the fisheries negotiations. It considers whether the fisheries subsidy discussions can be an appropriate benchmark for FFSR, concluding that the WTO should indeed have a role, and is better suited than other intergovernmental organizations to carry reforms forward.

In the context of trade and oceans, the 30th International Maritime Organization (IMO) Assembly adopted seven “strategic directions” at the conclusion of its meeting, from 27 November to 6 December 2017, in London, England. Measures include responding to climate change, engaging in ocean governance, and enhancing the “global security and facilitation of international trade.”

In seeking to facilitate international trade and support SDG attainment, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim stressed a need to become a more nimble, adaptive “knowledge based organization,” given the pace of disruption in other industries. Relatedly, giving remarks at MC11, UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi called for a “re-energizing” of the global trading system. He noted that the multilateral trade system is a cornerstone of a revitalized global partnership for sustainable development, but that challenges remain, particularly with regard to the growing discourse around anti-globalization and some governments’ shifts to inward-looking approaches.

On finance, during the WTO Ministerial, the UK pledged US$21.3 million to support innovative trade programs for the least developed countries (LDCs). Funds will flow through the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), which has invested US$220 million in LDCs’ trade capacity development since 2008. The EU also pledged €1 million to the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda Global Trust Fund, to build developing countries’ capacity to “play a more active role” in the negotiations.

Issues such as gender equality (SDG 5) and peace, justice and strong institutions (Goal 16) also came to light in the activity surrounding the MC. Nearly three-quarters of the WTO’s 164 members backed a declaration on trade and women’s economic empowerment. The declaration offers a framework for the adoption of “gender-responsive trade policies.” Additional information on the declaration, prepared by the International Gender Champions Trade Impact Group, is available here.

A study released by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) takes the conversation on trade from the intergovernmental to national level, offering a report titled, ‘An Empirical Examination of Trade Openness and National Environmental Performance.’ The authors note that increased trade flows are “positively associated with environmental health outcomes and negatively associated with measures of ecosystem vitality,” but do not go so far as to suggest causation. The study also highlights that good governance enables countries to derive benefits from trade while limiting environmental degradation. Linking to topics covered at MC11, the study discusses results with respect to fossil fuel subsidies and foreign direct investment (FDI), among other topics.

On fossil fuel subsidy reform in the WTO, ICTSD released a paper titled, ‘Options for Constraining Dual Pricing in the Multilateral Trading System.’ The paper notes that dual pricing – whereby resource-rich countries offer energy resources domestically at significantly lower prices than on the export market – can be considered a harmful subsidy, as it ultimately disincentivizes the reduction of carbon emissions in those countries. The author calls on the WTO to play a more active role in the phase-out of such practices.

To address uneven climate efforts, experts from Climate Strategies highlight the potential role of border carbon adjustments (BCAs), which can be fiscal measures applied to imported goods, but can also take the form of emissions requirements or regulatory relief. The report titled, ‘Designing Border Carbon Adjustments for Enhanced Climate Action’ is authored by experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stockholm Environment Institute, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, and the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, and the publication is the latest output from the Making the international Trading System Work for Climate Change project. A truncated policy brief is available here.

Focusing on linkages between two global frameworks, Climate Strategies and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung co-hosted an MC11 side event on the theme, ‘How to make International Trade Policy Supportive of the Paris Agreement.’ Experts involved in the project also recently authored a guest article on the SDG Knowledge Hub, examining how trade agreements can support fossil fuel subsidy reform to accelerate progress towards fulfilling pledges made under the Paris Agreement.

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