Environment researchers outline cooperation for sustainable development through trade and investment agreements in a post-COVID 19 world

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Global Economy, Sustainable Development Goals, and International

Law Cooperation for sustainable development through trade and investment agreements in a post-COVID 19 world

by Blessing Ajayi and Prof. Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger

Marie Claire holding a book“In a time of deadly global pandemics, dangerous climate change and financial instability, global cooperation has never been more important. Nonetheless, forces of populism and intolerance are seriously questioning the value of collaborative relationships across borders; confidence in the rules that govern international trade and investment flows, and our global economy, is eroding. However, if Athena, Greek goddess of justice, wisdom and the crafts were con­sulted, she would likely advise more careful crafting of our economic agreements— calling for reasoned negotiations based on scholarship, on law and sustainability expertise. All those committed to international cooperation would be challenged to extend their thinking beyond facile mercantilism or false noblesse oblige charity, and to develop more intricate, balanced economic regimes that can promote sustainable justice across and among gener­ations” – Excerpt from Athena’s Treaties: Crafting Trade and Investment Accords for Sustainable Development by Prof. Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger

As we seek to build back better in ways that promote sustainable development, existing trade and investment agreements, as well as proposed agreements (like the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability negotiations), offer opportunities for binding cooperation to tackle climate, biodiversity and other emergencies. Through innovative cooperation mechanisms and efforts, forward-thinking bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements are starting to tackle these challenges, though a great deal more work remains to align economic law with the global Sustainable Development Goals.

Through a new volume with Oxford University Press 'Athena's Treaties: Crafting Trade and Investment Agreements for Sustainable Development', Professor Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, together with graduate student Blessing Ajayi whose PhD focuses on sustainability measures in trade agreements, is proposing innovative solutions.

BlessingThe World Trade Organisation (WTO) and its members, some of whom have already explored these issues in their own bilateral agreements, are not left behind. Between 26-28 May 2021, the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD) group at the WTO, along with representatives from civil society groups, think tanks and intergovernmental organisations held a series of meetings in preparation for the WTOs Twelfth Ministerial Conference later this year. Their discussions bordered around environmental goods and services, “greening” Aid for Trade, fossil fuel subsidy reform, border carbon adjustments, and “green” trade. The G7 member countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US, and the European Union as a guest) are also in support of and acknowledge the work of the WTO’s TESSD, as noted in a joint statement released on 28 May 2021 by the G7 Trade Track.

One example from a regional trade agreement is found in the European Union-Central America Association Agreement (2012). Upon entry into force in 2012, the Agreement established a Board on Trade and Sustainable Development whose ongoing mandate is to oversee the implementation of cooperative activities undertaken to ensure that trade between the Parties is in support of sustainable development.  Recently, at the Board’s 6th meeting in November 2020, the Parties discussed cooperation on greening Covid-19 recovery plans, national climate policies, green innovation and sustainable production in the agricultural sector, and sustainability standards.

A more specific example is found in the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement (1997, modernized 2019).  The modernised agreement now includes a chapter on Trade & Gender which acknowledges the importance of applying a gender perspective to economic and trade issues, as well as an updated Investment chapter which includes an article on corporate social responsibility (CSR) reaffirming the Parties' commitment to globally endorsed CSR standards. Cooperation through the Agreement’s Commission for Environmental Cooperation, which was established to ensure that trade between both Parties fosters environmental protection and sustainable development, has resulted in a joint program - the Canada-Chile Organic Recycling Program. The purpose of this program is to support Chile in complying with its international commitments to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from the waste sector, by converting organic waste into clean energy and natural fertilizer.

Cooperation activities through trade agreements are only one of the many ways through which we can build back better. As the world reopens, we must take advantage of every available  opportunity to ensure that our economies recover in a manner that fosters rather than frustrates sustainable development.

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Book coverIf you are interested in exploring these and other similar issues further, join SEED Professor and Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge Prof. Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, Director General of the World Trade Organisation Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University Stephen Toope, as well as other distinguished international experts for a Leverhulme lecture and Distinguished Experts panel on June 16, 2021, to share insights and identify new directions for the global economy in the context of pandemic recovery and the global Sustainable Development Goals. Click here to register for free.

Athena’s Treaties: Crafting Trade and Investment Accords for Sustainable Development (Oxford University Press, June 2021) will also be launched at this event. For a special 30% discount, click here.

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