Experts meeting in Geneva discuss how to make trade work for the sustainable development goals

16 October 2015

​Experts meeting in Geneva discussed which “policy interfaces” – or complementary actions – can help trade policy contribute to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Development practitioners working on nutrition, HIV/AIDS and wildlife conservation have shared their views with the Geneva trade community on how trade interacts with their daily work in helping countries make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), at a meeting in Geneva on 12 October.

Among issues addressed was the way trade policy interacts with nutrition and health. For example, agricultural subsidies on certain commodities can significantly impact the nutritional quality of processed food by changing the prices of key ingredients, which in turn cause malnutrition or obesity - depending on country-specific contexts.

In another example, the availability and the affordability of essential medicines for HIV/AIDS treatment are directly influenced by tariffs and trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS).

The following ways to allow trade policy to contribute to national, regional and international efforts to achieve the SDGs were identified by participants:

  • Trade policy can have negative, albeit unintended, side effects in the context of sustainable development in social and environmental dimensions.

  • The side effects can make trade seem to be a source of tension (for example the benefits of income growth from logging versus the benefits of conserving biodiversity in forests). Bilateral or regional free trade agreements (FTAs) may increase the magnitude of such side effects in certain areas.

  • The institutional strength and regulatory capacity of a country matters when converting negative trade-induced effects into positive ones.

  • Designing complementary actions between trade and the SDGs requires sound data and information on how earnings are distributed within and across borders, and which externalities are internalized within domestic and international value chains. The presence of multi-stakeholder partnerships within a country will help this process.

  • Policymakers increasingly need to address "how we trade" in terms of inclusive sustainable distribution of gains from trade in addition to "how much we trade" when designing trade policy.

The outcome of these discussions will be fully reflected in a forthcoming UNCTAD publication, tentatively titled "Trade, Market Access and the SDGs."