Ensuring Sustainability through Trade Agreements

March 29, 2017

On March 29th, 2017, the ICTSD, with the support of the German Development Cooperation, organised a dialogue on “Ensuring Sustainability through Trade Agreements” under the RTA Exchange dialogue series aimed at systematically exploring possibilities for convergence and coherence-building between regional trade agreements (RTAs) and the multilateral trade system. Since the early 90’s and the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), several bilateral or regional trade agreements have incorporated explicit provisions related to sustainable development, ranging from specific conditionalities in unilateral preference schemes (e.g EU GSP +), to more comprehensive approaches in the context of reciprocal free trade agreements. Over time, as different models and practices emerged, such provisions have evolved and become more sophisticated in their scope and their approach.

Today, RTAs include a wide variety of provisions going from innovative cooperation mechanisms; through provisions to address conflicts at the intersection of trade and sustainable development; to measures promoting compliance with international or domestic environmental and labour laws; or regulatory commitments to advance social or environmental objectives. In addition to providing enforceable disciplines that advanced sustainable development, these bilateral and regional agreements also acted as fertile ground for innovation and cooperation. Such developments contrast with the limited progress observed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) where most evolutions occurred through jurisprudence as opposed to new commitments or disciplines. As the international community moves towards the implementation of the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the treatment of sustainability concerns in bilateral and regional arrangements provides essential precedents and practical experiences from which lessons or best practices can be drawn to inform developments at the multilateral level, be it at the WTO or in other international arena.

Agenda: Link



Dialogue Report and Background Materials

The objective of this dialogue is to look at the experience of modern/deep integration RTAs in addressing sustainability concerns (e.g. through environmental and labor provisions) and what lessons can be drawn for the multilateral trade system, considering how different approaches could be multilateralised, or — more realistically — adapted to advance a multilateral discussion, highlighting opportunities and possible stumbling blocks. The dialogue opened with an overview of how sustainability concerns, including environmental and social concerns, have been addressed in modern RTAs, and reviewed the treatment of sustainability provisions under different approaches or families of agreements. The afternoon sessions considered the challenges and benefits resulting from the implementation of sustainability provisions in RTAs from a variety of sectoral perspectives, and explored prospects at the multilateral level to advance a constructive discussion on sustainability drawing from the experience of RTAs and suggesting possible ways forward


Sustainability Provisions in Regional Trade Agreements: Can they be Multilateralised?

With the rise of deep-integration regional trade agreements (RTAs), the role of sustainable development has become an inevitable discussion. Recent agreements reflect a trend in favour of incorporating comprehensive sustainable development provisions, not just among developed countries, but also among some developing countries, with different countries employing different approaches to ensure the protection of social, economic, and environmental concerns. Despite the different approaches, similarities across the RTAs have emerged. The emerging homogeneity in these RTAs has opened discussions about a possible convergence between regionalism and multilateralism. Having multilateral commitments on trade and sustainable development could advance the cause of sustainability, while at the same time bolstering the multilateral, rules-based, trading system.

Read Full Material: Link

In Other Dialogues

Upcoming: Facilitation 2.0 in Regional Trade Agreements: Enabling Trade in the Digital Age

June 11, 2018

One year on from its entry into force, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), the only multilateral deal to have eluded the Doha Round deadlock, has allowed for sust... READ MORE

RTA Dispute Settlement Provisions: Options for Effective Enforcement

February 8, 2018

Together with the proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs), there has been a proliferation of dispute settlement mechanisms (DSMs) included in those agreements. While they are far from bei... READ MORE

Trade and Development Symposium

December 11, 2017

Digital Trade-Related Provisions in Regional Trade Agreements

July 13, 2017

On July 13th, 2017,  the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) organised a dialogue on digital trade-related pro... READ MORE

Regulatory Coherence and the Multilateral Trade System: Lessons from RTAs and Lessons to Promote Convergence

March 28, 2017

On March 28th, 2017, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) organised a dialogue on “Regulatory Coheren... READ MORE

Towards Inclusive Rules of Origin

November 21, 2016

On November 21-22, 2016, the ICTSD in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) organised a dialogue on inclusive rules of origin (RoO). The meeting represents the first in a serie... READ MORE