Trade Forum Features

Trade: the key to a sustainable post-2015 development agenda

15 September 2014
ITC News
UNECE studies of regulatory and procedural trade measures highlight how facilitating trade contributes to sustainable development and the need for creative mechanisms to ensure broad-based participation in policy decisions on trade, writes UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach.

To achieve sustainable development there is a significant need for new ideas, products and technologies in each and every country in the world. This is why trade and transport are critical for sustainable development. If a new energy efficient water pump, solar panel or vaccine cannot cross a border without expensive delays and extra costs, then it will slow the transition to a greener and more sustainable economy. Increased trade brings efficiency gains, stimulates innovation and yields higher income growth. The importance of trade in bringing about sustainable economic growth cannot be overemphasized.

By integrating efforts towards human development, economic growth, environmental protection and peace, the post-2015 development agenda provides new avenues for leveraging trade to deliver broader sustainable development objectives. It also helps to ensure complementarity between trade and other economic policies. The challenge becomes how best to define and integrate trade-related targets or indicators across the sustainable development goals in a manner that allows for sequencing implementation according to regional and national circumstances.

The experience of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) shows that enabling trade as a vehicle for sustainable development is not only about tariffs. It is just as important to target the non-economic factors embedded in institutions. These include norms, standards, regulations related to trade and the way they are enforced.

Examples of such factors can be found in UNECE studies of regulatory and procedural trade measures, which show how a country’s body of laws, regulations and procedures governing exports and imports can constitute a binding constraint to trade and development. They also show how efforts to encourage trade, investment and the creation of productive capacities can be effectively defeated at the implementation level under the weight of excessive and complicated documentary requirements and administrative procedures.

These generate additional costs (financial and time-wise) which are of greater significance than tariff barriers to trade. They act as disincentives for investors to create new enterprises and as disincentives to especially small and medium-sized enterprises to participate in trade and, thus, grow. Overcoming these obstacles through effective trade facilitation must be a priority development goal for many economies. If done in the right way, facilitating trade facilitates sustainable development.

The UNECE studies also highlight the need for creative mechanisms for ensuring broad-based participation in policy decisions on trade. This would ensure that policies meet the needs and concerns of both public and private-sector actors involved in trade as well as the disparate and often conflicting priorities between the micro level of enterprise and the macro level of national policies. Here it is essential to build strong and efficient institutions to implement agreed upon solutions and capture the interdependencies between trade and other policy instruments.

Keeping the above in mind, trade needs to be included in all national plans for sustainable development with an eye towards its capacity for generating spill-over benefits and contributing to overall sustainability. In other words, trade should be treated as a growth enabler. This is the main lesson emerging from the UNECE’s studies and capacity-building efforts aimed at assisting public- and private-sector organizations to address the non-economic trade factors and consultative mechanisms discussed above.

UNECE is uniquely placed to work with other international organizations and to assist countries in doing this through its internationally recognized recommendations, norms and guidelines in the areas of trade facilitation, regulatory cooperation and agricultural quality standards. This will be one of our most important contributions to the post-2015 development agenda.