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UNECE tools and resources help countries reap the benefits of trade for their sustainable development strategies

Supporting countries in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is UNECE’s key priority. The SDGs are embedded in all UNECE workstreams, including trade. Sustainable trade reforms can promote inclusive growth, job creation and poverty reduction, thus contributing to the achievement of many SDGs. Conversely, mainstreaming SDGs into trade policy can foster inclusive and sustainable trade. Recognizing this, last week the UNECE co-organized and participated in three events under the thematic streams of sustainability and rethinking trade at the Geneva Trade Week. The discussions at these events highlighted the tools and resources that could assist countries foster trade and sustainability.

“An estimated 71 million people are expected to be pushed into extreme poverty this year. This highlights the need for deep reforms towards a sustainable and resilient economic recovery – one that leaves nobody behind. Of course, these are exactly the goals enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I thus reiterate to all of you the urgency of putting our energies towards the SDGs. Trade, and trade policy, have an important role to play in this context.”

 UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova@ the Geneva Trade Week

A large part of a country’s trade policy is shaped in the context of the World Trade Organization. Out of the 56 UNECE member States, 32 are original WTO Members, 16 became WTO Members through the accession process, six are acceding and one is an observer. Being cognizant of the challenges faced by these acceding countries as transition economies and in line with target SDG 17.10: “promote the international rules-based trading system”, UNECE, as part of the Geneva Trade Week, convened acceded and acceding countries to share their experiences in a session on Harnessing trade as a means for strengthening Agenda 2030/SDGs – the case of WTO accession. Discussions provided an opportunity to concretize interlinkages between WTO accessions, Agenda 2030 and the SDGs and UNECE’s breath of trade-related instruments and tools. Several UNECE committees and subsidiary bodies were highlighted as important platforms for acceding governments to cooperate, including, the Steering Committee on Trade Capacity and Standards, the Working Party on Agricultural Quality Standards (WP7), the Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation (WP6), the Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT). The current COVID-19-induced challenges for international trade bring to light the benefits of exploring synergies and cross fertilization between international organizations and particularly the WTO and the UNECE secretariats across several trade-related topics, such as technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, non-tariff measures, trade facilitation, pre and post-accession technical assistance.

Also part of the Geneva Trade week, the session on Strategies, Policies and Technologies and Policies for More Sustainable Production and Supply Chains, explored lessons learned, new initiatives and practical efforts on the ground to promote and scale up sustainable production, drawing upon value chains as diverse as garment, mining and agri-food. The panel showcased how the principles of fairness, circularity and more sustainable production need to be carefully aligned with trade and highlighted the concrete UNECE action and tools to build-back stronger and support a sustainable post-COVID recovery. The UNECE-UN/CEFACT project to enhance transparency traceability in the clothing industry and the ongoing UNECE cotton blockchain pilot, aim to improve transparency and traceability for the garment and footwear industry to make sustainable choices easier for consumers and businesses. The policy recommendations, standards and guidelines, supported by a Call to Action to be launched as part of the initiative, are even more relevant and timely as they fit into the evolving policy framework to advance due diligence and responsible business conduct in key industry sector for the green and circular economy, while ensuring that no-one is left behind.

UNECE’s normative instruments that can make substantial contributions towards advancing circularity, the theme of UNECE’s 65th Commission session in April 2021, were discussed during the Geneva Trade Week session on Trade in Support of Circular Economy, Sustainable Development and Green Recovery Post ­COVID-­19. As the pandemic puts pressure on supply chains and the materials needed for green technologies, the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC), developed by UNECE, can support sustainable production, consumption and transportation of energy and mineral resource by providing reliable and coherent data on the availability and sourcing of these critical raw materials from all sources. In so doing, it can also foster the development of circular economy strategies and improve the long-term resilience of supply-chains. UN Regulation 133, which sets minimum thresholds of 85 and 95 per cent for the reusability, recyclability and recoverability of motor vehicles, was also highlighted.

In the weeks to come, discussions will continue at the following events: