Trade, poverty reduction and protecting the environment go hand in hand, says UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General

29 April 2015

Joakim Reiter discussed the links between trade and environmental policies for sustainable development at a gathering of international leaders to mark the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva on 28 April.

Joakim Reiter, Deputy Secretary-General UNCTAD, Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, Chief Executive Officer, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and John Scanlon, Secretary-General Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

Participating in a high-level panel on the global environment and trade, UNCTAD Deputy-Secretary General Joakim Reiter highlighted that 20 years after the creation of the WTO, fears about trade taking precedence over environmental sustainability have been proved unfounded.

Time has shown that multilateral cooperation has been successful in avoiding such conflicts, he said. However, some environmental concerns linked to trade and economic growth remain, Mr. Reiter said.

The international community is increasingly aware of this and has been looking into managing the interaction between trade and environment legal regimes through greater mutual supportiveness and synergies. Nonetheless such coherence is not the same as helping countries implement such hard or soft laws and benefit from them with scaled up assistance. Environmental protection and poverty alleviation through trade must go hand in hand.

Mr. Reiter said that the outcome of the "Rio+20" processes and agreement this year on sustainable development goals provide a new impetus for change towards sustainable development.

This is a unique opportunity that should be seized by governments with appropriate domestic policies and regional and international regulatory agreements and frameworks.

Governments should make better use of trade as an enabler of sustainable development, Mr. Reiter said. Actions are required in such areas as eliminating harmful subsidies on agricultural products, fish and fossil fuel; facilitating technology flows; and spreading the use of renewable energy and environmental goods and services. Governments must take full responsibility to ensure that their green economic policies are the least trade restrictive, he said. All international institutions must be rallied in support of such actions to act within their respective mandates.

Particpants in the meeting, including representatives of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), the United Nations Environment Programme and the WTO, agreed that there is opportunity in 2015 for the international community to bring forward guiding principles and frameworks on how to approach development with environmental sustainability.