Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Keeping trade open amid COVID-19 crisis central to achieving SDGs and economic recovery


Keeping trade open amid COVID-19 crisis central to achieving SDGs and economic recovery

Keeping trade open amid COVID-19 crisis central to achieving SDGs and economic recovery
Photo credit: ICTSD

In a report to the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) taking place from 7 to 16 July, the WTO Secretariat highlights that trade, fiscal and monetary policies are key to supporting global sustainable development and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Amid the COVID-19 crisis, keeping trade open and fostering a favourable business environment will be critical to spur the renewed investment needed to meet the SDGs, the report says.

The theme of the 2020 HLPF – to be held under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Council – will be “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: Realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”. Participants will review progress on the SDGs in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They will also reflect on how the international community can respond to the crisis in a way that will accelerate progress towards meeting the SDGs.

The WTO reports annually to the HLPF on WTO efforts to achieve trade-specific targets in the SDGs. The HLPF is the United Nations’ main forum for reviewing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, providing the opportunity for all UN members and specialised agencies to meet annually to evaluate progress on achieving the SDGs.

The WTO report to this year’s HLPF highlights that the multilateral trading system has contributed significantly to unprecedented economic development over the last few decades. Greater certainty over trade policies has created predictability, creating the conditions for long-term business planning and investment.

However, a rise in trade-restrictive measures since 2019 – especially between major economies – and the suspension of activities of the WTO’s Appellate Body have created new challenges for the multilateral trading system. In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is having a major impact on global supply and demand, leading to disruptions in global supply chains for both goods and services.

At this time of crisis, the multilateral trading system becomes all the more important, providing a forum for a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the report says.

The report summarises the latest progress in the WTO’s multilateral trade negotiations, highlighting that talks on reducing harmful fisheries subsidies are playing an important role in advancing developing countries’ sustainable development objectives and meeting a key target in SDG 14.

Other WTO work contributing to meeting the SDGs includes discussions within the Committee on Trade and Environment on issues such as the circular economy, domestic initiatives on waste and chemicals management and recycling; and through the Aid for Trade initiative, which supports the achievement of SDG 8a.

The report also highlights the importance of improving transparency in WTO members’ trade policies, particularly those taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Another issue covered by the report is the role of gender-responsive trade policies as a means of increasing women’s participation in global trade and contributing to economic growth. These efforts were catalysed by the signing of the pdf Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment (493 KB)  in December 2017 and the implementation of the WTO’s Trade and Gender Action Plan for 2017-19.

The WTO's work with other international agencies on increasing access to trade finance is also outlined by the report. Trade finance can help facilitate international trade, helping small businesses in particular play a more active role in the global economy.

Mainstreaming trade into national development plans is cited as an important means of helping governments meet the SDGs. This includes integrating trade into sector strategies, defining a clear national trade policy and ensuring effective institutional coordination. The contribution of the multi-agency Enhanced Integrated Framework in this area is underscored by the report.

Finally, the report underlines the need for governments to implement measures that address the challenges faced by least-developed countries in international trade to ensure a more equitable distribution of the gains from trade and support the achievement of SDG 17.11, which calls for doubling LDCs’ share in global trade by 2020. The report also points to the importance of open trade policy and responsive fiscal policy to bring about a sustained and socially inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.


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