Rio+20: What it means for Aid for Trade and ITC

10 August 2012
ITC News
Blog: The environment team looks at the outcome of the RIO+20 conference and the implications for ITC's work on sustainable development and the Aid for Trade agenda.

logoThe Rio+20 Conference was the largest conference ever convened in the history of the United Nations: roughly 44,000 conference badges were issued, including to representatives from 191 countries; 500 official side events were held; and approximately 3,000 unofficial events were organized in parallel to the conference throughout Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The official result of the conference was a 53-page “outcome document”, entitled ‘The Future We Want’. While trade is only explicitly mentioned in a handful of paragraphs, the principles of sustainable development mentioned throughout the outcome document have broad implications for the Aid for Trade (A4T) Agenda. In today’s blog post we share our thoughts on what ‘The Future We Want’ means for ITC and its work.

The Rio+20 outcome document has relevance for the Aid for Trade Agenda in four areas:

  • the role of the UN in promoting sustainable development;
  • the importance of assisting developing countries in seizing new green export opportunities;
  • the benefits of engaging the private sector in sustainability practices; and
  • the links between trade and sustainable development.

Each of these is discussed below.

The role of the UN in promoting sustainable development

Rio+20 outcome?

The outcome document recognizes the role of the UN in promoting sustainable development and calls on the UN system to mainstream sustainable development (social, economic and environmental) into its operational activities. It also calls on the UN system to improve the sustainable management of its facilities. Furthermore, in the outcome document Member states put in place a process to create a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) in 2015.

What does this mean for A4T and ITC?

Since 2005, ITC has already been mainstreaming sustainable development into its trade promotion activities through Aid for Trade and its targeting of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Aid for Trade seeks to ensure that export growth translates into poverty reduction and environmental protection as well as economic growth. The SDGs (which will be agreed on by the end of 2013) will play an important role in defining the post-2015 development agenda and ultimately guide ITC’s future activities.

With respect to the sustainable management of UN facilities this point is important in ensuring the ITC Secretariat ‘walks the talk’ in promoting sustainability. ITC is fully engaged in promoting sustainability through its compliance with the UN’s Greening the Blue initiative. These efforts have focused on reducing the climate footprint of the UN’s buildings, facilities and travel. In expanding on these efforts, issues such as water use and waste generation/disposal will also be targeted.

Supporting green economy policies

Rio+20 outcome?

Green economy was a central topic for discussion at Rio+20. During the negotiations many developing countries expressed concern that green economy policies would create new trade barriers. In the final outcome document, no specific commitments were made; although Member states recognized the “importance” of green economy as a “tool for achieving sustainable development” It outcome document noted the importance of differences in national circumstances and sustainable development priorities.

What does this mean for A4T and ITC?

ITC Rio eventThe outcome document invites the UN to support developing countries upon request to achieve sustainable development, including through the sharing of best practices in applying green economy policies. This signals the growing importance of ITC’s work in helping exporters in developing countries to capture green trade opportunities. In Rio, ITC and partners held a number of side events, presenting on the potential trade opportunities for developing countries in the transition to a green economy. In fall 2012 ITC, UNEP and ICTSD will present a final report outlining green trade opportunities that exist for developing countries, including enabling conditions to assist developing countries to harness these opportunities.

Importance of engaging the private sector

Rio+20 outcome?

The outcome document recognizes that the private sector makes a valuable contribution to economic growth, reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development. It invites business and industry to develop strategies that integrate green economy policies and encourages them to integrate sustainability into their reporting cycles. The UN system is asked to support the private sector in this regard.

What does this mean for A4T and ITC?

ITC has a strong comparative advantage when engaging with the private sector, including assisting them to build up competitiveness and improve their sustainability. For example, through our Trade and Environment Programme, ITC is working with the horticulture sector in Kenya to assist exporters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with new carbon standards in export markets. ITC’s Standards Map provides users with information enabling them to analyse and compare information on more than 70 voluntary standards operating in over 200 countries, ultimately assisting enterprises to understand integrate sustainability into their practices.

Rio+20 and Trade

Rio+20 outcome?

The outcome document urges Member states to refrain from applying unilateral trade measures that are not in accordance with international law and that will impede development, particularly in developing countries. Furthermore, it reaffirms that green economy policies should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade.

The text highlights particular examples where trade provides an opportunity to promote sustainable industries, including sustainable tourism. The text calls for enhanced support and capacity building in developing countries for sustainable tourism activities.

Finally, the outcome document lists trade as a ‘means of implementation’ for a sustainable future, reaffirming the critical role that a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system can play in stimulating economic growth and development worldwide. Trade distorting subsidies and environmental goods and services are highlighted as areas where governments remain focused on achieving progress. Furthermore, Members of the WTO are urged to redouble efforts on the Doha Development Agenda.

What does this mean for A4T and ITC?

‘The Future We Want’ outcome document echoes language first put forward in Principle 12 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992), upholding the importance of an open and transparent trading system.

Trade is listed as a means of implementation alongside: finance, technology, capacity-building and registry of commitments. These means of implementation are seen as indispensable for translating sustainable development commitments into outcomes. In this respect, international trade is perceived as an integral part of the solution, and not as a part of the problem.

Despite the lack of concrete goals or commitments, “The Future We Want” document has important implications for the Aid for Trade Agenda, highlighting the positive links between trade and sustainable development, as well as the importance of assisting developing countries in seizing new export opportunities. ITC and the Aid for Trade community should be encouraged by this outcome to continue their efforts in integrating sustainable development objectives into trade-related technical assistance activities.

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