International trade has been acknowledged as an effective means of achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and realising a number of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the same time, we need to look behind the headlines and untangle the interplay between trade and sustainable development, in particular with regard to environmental sustainability.

Environmental protection and staying within the planetary boundaries, thereby safeguarding the Earth’s systems, is an indispensable prerequisite for poverty eradication and development. The scale of human-induced global environmental problems, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and land degradation, threatens to cause intolerable and irreversible damage, which profoundly interferes with the structure of societies and economies, as well as undermining sustainable development and the livelihood of future generations.

There is substantial potential for players such as the UN, the WTO, G20 or the EU to manage the trade-offs and foster the synergies between trade and environment, and thereby promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Yet, simplistic views too often characterise the debate about the interplay between trade and the environment.

For example, the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) was simultaneously celebrated as the “greenest” trade agreement ever to have been concluded  and condemned for being an ecological disaster hidden under a “green” cover. In order to move beyond such oversimplifications, we need to improve our understanding of the intertwined relationship between trade and environmental rules embedded in modern trade agreements.

Relationship between trade and environment: new understanding needed

While trade agreements were traditionally aimed at eliminating tariffs, we now see a trend towards more comprehensive agreements that also deal with non-economic policy areas such as the environment. The rising number of bilateral and regional trade agreements entails progressively more environmental content. Already, 85% of all trade agreements cover environmental dimensions.  Whereas the increasing uptake of environmental rules in trade agreements is well-acknowledged, we lack a deep understanding  of the development and variance of environmental provisions in trade agreements across themes, across time periods, and across regions and countries.

TREND analytics provides an “evidence-based” contribution to this debate.


TREND analytics allows us to address pressing questions such as:

  • What are the implications of environmental content in trade agreements in the context of the 2030 Agenda – not only for the environment, but for growth, employment, poverty reduction and making trade more inclusive, especially for Least Developed Countries (LDCs)?
  • For example, what are the effects of environmental provisions in trade agreements on environmental policies or outcomes? How do they affect the competitiveness of firms in developing countries and their integration into global value chains (GVCs)? How do they affect the fight against poverty and inequality?
  • What are the promises and pitfalls at the intersection of trade and the environment, and sustainable development more broadly, in the context of specific policy issues, for example fisheries subsidies or endangered species?
  • What can be the role of trade agreements to foster synergies and co-benefits between trade and the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda?
    In view of the increasingly interconnected relationship between trade and environmental policies, and in light of ongoing controversies about the interlinkages between international trade and environmental protection, as well as the 2030 Agenda, TREND analytics offers a new basis for both research and evidence-based policymaking at the trade and environment interface.
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