Inclusiveness and sustainability in global trade

29 March 2012
ITC News

In June, world leaders will meet in Brazil for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The conference aims to renew political commitment to sustainable development, assess progress on the implementation of agreements and outcomes of past summits, and address new challenges.

The previous two “earth summits” acknowledged the role of trade in sustainable development — in allocating scarce resources more efficiently, in stimulating growth and in raising income levels. What has been found in recent years is that trade liberalization, environmental protection and socially inclusive development need not be at cross purposes. They can be mutually supportive. At ITC, our programmes begin with the assumption that win-win-win scenarios are achievable. Carefully designed export strategies can harness the power of commerce in socially and environmentally beneficial ways.

This is an important year for the global trading system as well, as the world’s top trade officials and members of civil society meet at UNCTAD XIII. As Dr. Supachai, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, points out in this issue of International Trade Forum, the conference allows leaders to stress the fact that trade must be at the heart of the sustainable development agenda.

One angle on sustainable development that is gaining traction is the concept of the green economy, particularly as the effects of climate change and overpopulation in urban settings become increasingly clear. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, defines the green economy as low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive. The demand for environmentally friendly products and services presents tremendous opportunities for developing countries to increase their citizens’ livelihoods and preserve the natural environment. He cites the example of biodiversity-based products such as natural cosmetics, medicines and food ingredients. Demand for sustainably produced goods, through certification, strengthens the economic incentive to preserve the environment while raising the income of families in rural areas.

ITC is working directly with exporters and producers to support the green economy. Under the Trade, Climate Change and Environment Programme (TCCEP), ITC is helping Peruvian exporters of biodiversity-based products to overcome regulatory barriers to enter the United States market. In Zambia, the TCCEP is helping 500 women to market their natural products to high-end ecotourism lodges, providing an important income stream for people otherwise dependent on subsistence agriculture. ITC’s work with the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species seeks to understand trade in wildlife and how its impact on flora and fauna can be diminished. The programme is also helping tea and fruit exporters in Kenya to implement climate-change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Of course, one must remain realistic about what the green economy can achieve for global development. As the World Bank’s Augusto López-Claros describes so clearly in this issue, developing country governments must create the policies and institutions that allow for sustainable growth and, in most cases, wealth-creation objectives are likely to override environmental ones.

Within the Aid for Trade framework, ITC will continue to help developing countries identify opportunities in the green economy. In the meantime, development partners must facilitate collaboration between governments and the private sector to enable socially inclusive economic development and environmental protection.