Tracking sustainability across global value chains

14 October 2015

Following the adoption of the UN “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” governments, international institutions, and stakeholders the world over are now turning their attention to implementation. Achieving the ambitious to-do list outlined in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require careful reflection on the right policies and investments, as well as a rigorous monitoring system, in order to benchmark progress.

With “sustainability” firmly in vogue, consumers too will be looking to play their role. But purchasing goods today in a world of long and complex global – and regional – value chains (GVCs) can make it difficult to determine environmental or social credentials.

A variety of existing regulatory and non-governmental initiatives are seeking to address this issue and many more are likely to come. These efforts raise a variety of “behind the border” questions relevant to the trade community through the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) that aims to ensure that domestic technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade.

A technical regulation might be an ecolabel required in order to gain market access, for example, a ban on certain products, or required standards to meet in order to achieve a legitimate public policy goal. Certain TBT disciplines equally apply to voluntary standards, although, the extent to which WTO Members can be held responsible for private sector initiatives could well surface again in future cases brought to the global trade arbiter.   

The lead articles in this Biores edition take stock of recent TBT case law and examine various implications from a sustainable development perspective. Arthur E. Appleton looks at whether a spate of WTO rulings related to product labelling in the last three years provide enough flexibility for members achieve various non-trade policy objectives. Gracia Marin Duran explores the extent to which carbon labelling initiatives are covered by, and could run afoul of, TBT disciplines. Furthermore, as the interest in sourcing sustainable seafood grows in the face of persistent overfishing and illegal marine activity, two other articles examine possible trade tools and traceability requirements designed to address this issue.

Looking ahead, the positive news is that the international community has pledged to set itself on a sustainable development path through the 2030 Agenda, although there is now much work needed ahead. Trade rules and policies can help encourage positive steps in the right direction if formulated in a targeted manner.

What do you think? Be sure to follow our social networking streams on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with our regular trade and environment news updates. And if you are interested in contributing material to future issues of BioRes, please do write to us. We appreciate both your time and your feedback.

The BioRes Team

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14 October 2015
Do the recent WTO rulings related to product labelling provide enough flexibility for Members to achieve various non-trade policy objectives? WTO Members and consumers have largely ignored the...
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