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Exploring environmental standards for trade

On December 3, 2021, Tulip Consulting in partnership with the GRCF TRADE Hub organized a panel discussion as part of the IISD Trade and Sustainability Hub 2021.

The discussion focused on the need to develop environmental minimum standards in the context of the WTO, in a similar vein to the Codex Alimentarius, currently applicable to global food standards. In particular, panelists explored how minimum environmental standards could promote a more sustainable global economy.

Colette Van der Ven, Founder and Director of TULIP Consulting, highlighted that although the idea of Minimum Environmental Standards is a recent one, we can learn from similar existing instruments, such as the Codex Alimentarius, which developed over a 100-year period. Differences, however, exist, with respect to the design of the standards: while the Codex Alimentarius focuses on product characteristics, most environmental standards concern so-called processes and production methods (PPMs).

WWF UK Chief Economist, Angela Francis explained that the similarity between food safety and environmental quality standards is central to the WWF’s proposed Codex Planetarius, which offers a conceptual framework for what a Minimum Environmental Standard for agricultural goods could look like. While thinking on the Codex Planetarius is still in early conceptual stages, the intent behind the proposal is, “to stand as a complement to the Codex Alimentarius, such that food safety and planetary safety go hand in hand”.

Karim Dostmohamed, Board Member of COLEACP, an organization that is representing agricultural exporters from African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States, cautioned that unequal access to resources between developed and developing country producers to level up to new standards risks generating negative environmental impacts to developing countries and LDCs. This underscores the need for capacity building and financial assistance, but also highlights the importance of initiatives that help reduce and simplify trade-related requirements, while foreseeing realistic phase-in timescales to help small-scale producers adapt to new measures.

Finally, Lorena Jaramillo, Economic Affairs Officer of UNCTAD shared insights from her work with UNCTAD’s BioTrade programme, and the evolution of the BioTrade Principles and Criteria over time. BioTrade is an interesting case study, as it seeks to create trade-related opportunities for small scale producers in developing countries, centered around biodiversity-based and natural products at the highest social and environmental standards. As Lorena Jaramillo highlighted, the BioTrade guidelines are intended to help governments and businesses implement practices that are biodiversity friendly, contribute to poverty alleviation and are flexible enough to adapt to local and regional circumstances.

In conclusion, stakeholders highlighted that political leadership will be essential to advance this issue in international fora. In particular, panelists urged that a minimum environmental standard would need to be fair, and mindful of the challenges faced by the most vulnerable producers. Given the challenging road towards developing global minimum environmental standards, initiatives undertaken at national and regional levels will play an important role.

The session recording can be accessed here.


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