Jaxport / flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0 / creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Monitor

International Trade and Sustainability

by Jan Cernicky

In terms of sustainability, global trade is already better than its reputation suggests – but a clear set of rules can further improve this

The concept of sustainability encompasses the dimensions of ecology, economy and social issues in a holistic way. International trade, too, can hardly be viewed separately from issues of sustainability. If the effects are viewed spatially on a local, regional and global level, international trade with a focus on the social and ecological dimension appears to be advantageous overall, but there is a need for action with regard to the ecological dimension.

When it comes to sustainability, global trade is already better than its reputation today – but a clear set of rules can improve this: Our current system already offers many starting points and instruments that have the potential to contribute to more sustainable trade. Nevertheless, it can only solve part of the problem and steer international production in the most sustainable way possible.

Globally valid and implemented rules are a prerequisite for sustainable international trade. The EU strengthens these rules, for example through sustainability chapters in free trade agreements. Voluntary certifications such as Fairtrade can effectively strengthen sustainable trade beyond mandatory regulations. Globally valid pricing of unsustainable behaviour could therefore be the most effective instrument for strengthening sustainability globally through international trade.

No. 3 of our Sustainability Monitor clearly defines the term in relation to commerce. It also evaluates how sustainable international trade is currently and shows how it can be improved. A striking finding of the study, however, is that states with endemic corruption can only be persuaded to adopt sustainable behaviour to a limited extent by means of trade policy instruments.

Read the entire Monitor here as a PDF.

Monitor
Vereinte Nationen
March 30, 2021
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Monitor
UNICEF Ethiopia / flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
April 7, 2021
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