Mindful Monday 16: Make trade more sustainable and inclusive, leaders say

21 juin 2021

By Isabelle Durant, Acting Secretary-General of UNCTAD


The second edition of the UN Trade Forum on 14 and 15 June discussed pathways towards a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, while tackling the climate emergency. Speakers called for a more coherent policy framework to ensure trade plays a bigger role in climate action, while fostering development. If you missed the discussions, here are the highlights from the high-level segment of the event:

A threefold path to COVID-19 recovery

COVID-19 trade impacts have disproportionately been borne by the more vulnerable in society, and especially women, emphasizing the need for more inclusive trade policies in the wake of the pandemic. Emerging from the coronavirus crisis is going to take deliberate political will, policy and more sustainable production that prioritizes both people and the planet, top trade leaders said.

UNCTAD’s incoming secretary-general, Rebeca Grynspan, said the first key steps towards a recovery from COVID-19 require universal vaccine access, fiscal space, and stronger multilateralism framed by a sustainability agenda. “Building back better means we have to raise our voice to make the necessary steps for universal vaccination,” she said.

A win-win for people and the planet

“Climate change is increasingly defining us. We cannot afford to deal with it later,” said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant. “Climate change and environmental protection cannot be left out of any discussion on trade and development.”

It is in this spirit that the panel outlined ways to ensure trade plays a bigger role in climate action while promoting development. Ms. Grynspan said: “We want an economic recovery that is different, that is sustainable, that is more inclusive. The green transition can be a great opportunity.” She added: “But just because it’s green, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inclusive. We need policies to be green and inclusive of people – and we need to integrate development and trade. We need to find a win-win between people and the planet.”

Sustainability shouldn’t be a barrier

“I really think there can be green and inclusive growth. But we need a transition period. We need to think about how we handle the transition of resource-rich countries that are dependent on fossil fuels, like mine Nigeria. It’s not overnight that you can transform everything,” World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said, adding that the transition should be a just one.

To this end, the European Commission's executive vice-president and commissioner for trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, promised the European Union’s support for such a transition. He added that the global climate ambition is a shared endeavour for both developed and developing countries, saying: “We need the world fully onboard.”

Discussions at the forum also underscored the need for policy coherence, a whole-of-government approach, standard carbon pricing, support for women in trade, and more help for developing countries to reach their sustainable development ambitions. The forum was a prelude to a series of major global, multilateral negotiation moments that will focus on striking the balance between economic recovery and environmental protection.

These include UNCTAD’s 15th quadrennial conference, UNCTAD15, from 3 to 7 October; the World Trade Organization’s 12th ministerial conference, MC12, in November; and the World Biodiversity Summit, in October and November.

Contact person:  Isabelle Valentiny, Chief of Staff, a.i. : isabelle.valentiny@un.org