Trade and Development Symposium

December 11, 2017

The biennial Trade and Sustainable Development Symposium, organised by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and held alongside the WTO ministerial conference for over a decade, is the leading multi-stakeholder platform for intellectual enquiry and dialogue on sustainable development and the global trade and investment system. It acts as an inclusive platform outside of the WTO negotiating setting for sharing ideas, engaging in dialogue, and influencing trade policy negotiations. Drawing in participants from government, business and civil society, the Symposium helps to maintain and elaborate a global vision of sustainable development in trade and investment policymaking.



Dialogue Report and Background Materials

The global economy has introduced novel opportunities and allowed for broader participation in international trade, but sound regulatory frameworks are required for these gains to be realised, sustainable, and equitably shared. As globalisation and the role of international trade are brought under the microscope, it becomes the onus of the rules-based multilateral trade system embodied in the WTO to adapt and respond to these new realities.

The trade system can play a crucial role in addressing global challenges and can be instrumental in the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change. However, a protracted lack of consensus in the multilateral trading system has deferred to regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements for advancements, which in turn poses risks of fragmentation and erosion in the global frameworks.

The high-level plenary sessions will set out to examine the challenges brought about by the new global economy, enriched with the regional perspective from Latin America, and assess how trade policy can regain confidence for a system that is inclusive and works for all. Varied in scope and approach, the plenaries will each focus on the prospects for the future of the world economy and seek to identify areas where trade policy can deliver for sustainable development.


Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Rules of Origin

Regional trade agreements (RTAs) and particularly deep integration agreements concluded in recent years have increasingly allowed firms to operate within a networked global economy. On the other hand, however, RTAs also have also created limitations, not least through the use of strict rules of origin (RoO) which disincentivise the use of cheaper parts and materials from countries outside a particular trading block. By limiting the ability of firms to take part in value chains spreading across various RTAs, the diversity and complexity of RoO can therefore limit efficiency gains opportunities offered by globalisation. Strict and diverse sets of rules of origin may also prevent developing countries including least developed countries from fully benefiting from the enhanced market access granted through preferential schemes or negotiated under their RTAs. A possible solution could be pushing for the simplification and harmonisation of RoO, seizing on the momentum the issue has gained within the WTO after Bali and Nairobi as well as through the negotiations under way in the context of mega-regional agreements. The session will provide an overview of the most pressing issues concerning RoO with regard to their design, implementation, purpose, restrictiveness, and utilisation and will explore the most effective way to go in promoting the harmonisation and simplification of inclusive RoO, to be achieved through a cumulation scheme.

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Advancing Environmental and Labour Priorities Through Trade Agreements

The development and implementation of provisions related to sustainable development has recently emerged as a two-speed process: while limited progress is being observed at the WTO-level, several bilateral and regional trade agreements have been increasingly featuring a wide variety of measures, including regulatory commitments, labour- and environment-related instruments, and cooperation mechanisms. This session seeks to explore how sustainability concerns, in particular labour and environmental provisions, are incorporated in regional trade agreements (and mega-regionals) and what benefits and challenges arise from these provisions. Additionally, the session tries to identify suitable provisions that could be multilateralised or at least adapted to further the discussion at the multilateral level (i.e. WTO or other international fora).

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TSDS Welcoming Session

Keynote speech delivered by H.E. Mr Jorge Faurie, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina, on “Argentina in the global economy, the WTO MC11 and the G20”.

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Enforceability of Trade and Investment Rules That Support Sustainability: The Case of Dispute Settlement Mechanisms

Dispute settlement provisions are an essential enforcement element of regional trade agreements (RTAs). In light of the different paces of rule-making at the multilateral level and regional level, dispute settlement mechanisms (DSMs) under RTAs are likely to become increasingly relevant in the future as litigious fora for addressing trade differences among trading partners, particularly with respect to WTO-extra obligations. However, the use of RTA DSMs has been fairly limited – a phenomenon that may be explained by political, cultural and technical factors, as well as case-specific elements. This session seeks to identify the reasons behind the limited use of regional DSMs, and discusses systemic options for enforcing trade and investment rules that support sustainability. Additionally, the session seeks to explore possibilities for convergence and coherence-building between RTAs and the multilateral trading system in the area of dispute settlement.

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Integrating Trade and Investment Policymaking - Lessons from RTAs

In a globalised world increasingly dependent on global value chains, trade and investment flows have become more and more complementary and mutually reinforcing. To support new business realities, countries are having to deepen the content of trade agreements by addressing a broader set of policy areas, and by negotiating provisions which may fall outside of the WTO mandate. Investment is one such policy area- provisions are no longer mainly negotiated via bilateral investment treaties (BITs), though such agreements continue to proliferate; rather, investment is increasingly addressed through non-BIT international investment agreements, and integrated into regional trade agreements in chapter or provision form. This session aims to understand the main trends in terms of how countries are integrating trade and investment concerns, and whether there are any lessons which could be replicated by other regional actors, or at the multilateral level.

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Regulatory Cooperation and Coherence: The New Frontiers in Trade and Investment

While the WTO includes some disciplines regarding regulatory policies, most notably in the area of mandatory product standards (SPS/TBT), most of the rules and mechanisms that determine how to collaborate on regulatory policies takes place outside the ambit of trade frameworks. In recent years however, there has been an increasing systemising of regulatory cooperation through trade and investment frameworks, particularly through the modern deep integration agreements. This session seeks to identify innovative provisions and mechanisms for regulatory cooperation that are emerging from recent bilateral and regional trade agreements. Additionally the session will explore the implications of these practices on both members and non-members, and assess whether any of these new practices could be harvested for the multilateral level, or by other regional actors.

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E-commerce: Maximising Benefits Through Regional and Multilateral Rules

The Internet has revolutionised communication, information, and innovation, opening up new areas for economic growth, prospects for employment and opportunities for participation in global markets by individuals, small and medium-sized enterprises, and businesses all around the globe. In the run-up to Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11), convergence has emerged across proposals with regard to the development potential of e-commerce, and the need for an enabling environment to ensure inclusive growth. As WTO members explore options to advance a discussion on e-commerce in the WTO, regional trade agreements (RTAs) that already include rules for digital trade can provide valuable lessons and key precedents to build upon. The session seeks to provide information and analysis on the most recent developments in the area of e-commerce rulemaking under RTAs, and contrast those against the scope and nature of the current efforts under the WTO. In addition, this session seeks to identify gaps in e-commerce rulemaking between the WTO and RTAs and to bring forward possible measures to address this challenge.

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Plenary: Latin American Challenges in the New Global Economy

Latin America has gone global. The rapid transition towards a digital economy, the densification of global value chains, and the ever-increasing trade flows, both among Latin American countries and between them and the rest of the world, bring opportunities but also demand improved and accelerated preparation from governments and business sectors alike. Small and medium-sized enterprises require thoughtful governmental action to better integrate into the new economy. Access to modern infrastructure and effective financing have a significant impact on the development of new business with export potential. On a continent where 70 percent of the labour force, but only 30 percent of its GDP comes from small and medium-sized enterprises, sound regulatory frameworks play a key role in creating appropriate conditions that facilitate engagement in the global economy. Latin America has a historic opportunity to take a leap forward. Her natural wealth, combined market size, and vocation for integration make her an attractive business partner, particularly for Southeast Asia and Europe, despite her traditional ties with North America. This high-level plenary will allow top policymakers and business with a particular interest in Latin America to share their views, confront their opinions, and work on common approaches towards the participation of Latin America in the new global economy in a trajectory coherent with the vision embodied in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The discussions will surround the orientation of Latin America in the context of globalisation, whether as a mere spectator or assuming a role as a creative and progressive player.

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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

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

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 RT... 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