News - Quarterly update

31 January 2023

Quarterly Update Issue 4

Welcome to the fourth edition of the TESS Quarterly Update. We begin the year in a world fraught with tension and in the midst of interwoven and overlapping crises. Yet, at TESS, we transition into the new year with encouraging news. A Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate, involving over 50 ministers of trade, was launched on 19 January 2023. You can read more about this significant event below.

On 2 December 2022, the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD) at the WTO held a high-level stocktake meeting to review progress achieved so far and give directions for future work streams. TESS spoke at the stocktake to encourage ambition and inclusiveness in this future work, offering concrete proposals for ways forward. A summary report, prepared by TESSD coordinators, of discussions held in plenary and informal working group meetings in 2022 is publicly available. You can also see a short video by TESSD coordinators.

Alongside, the first session of the UN negotiations for a global plastics treaty concluded in Punta del Este, Uruguay on 2 December 2022. Over the coming months, TESS will continue to support discussions on how enhanced international cooperation on trade and trade policies can support the goal of ending plastic pollution, including through an international legally binding instrument and through complementary action in relevant international fora such as the WTO.

At the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) on 7–19 December in Montreal, a new global biodiversity framework for 2030 to address the key drivers of nature loss was adopted by governments from around the world. The framework provides a reference point for examining how trade and trade-related policies can support biodiversity conservation, sustainable use, and restoration alongside sustainable development objectives. Guided by that objective, TESS co-organized a side event with partners from UNEP, UNCTAD, and the WTO at COP15 on Nature-positive trade for sustainable development.

What We've Focused On

Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate

On 19 January 2023, over 50 ministers of trade representing a diversity of countries from all regions and levels of development launched a Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate. Led by trade ministers from Ecuador, the European Union, Kenya, and New Zealand, the coalition seeks to provide high-level leadership and guidance to boost inclusive international cooperation on the nexus of climate, trade, and sustainable development.

TESS welcomes the creation of this coalition. We proud to have been working with the co-leads on the creation of their coalition and that our Director was invited to moderate the landmark launch meeting held in the margins of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos.

The coalition seeks to provide high-level leadership and guidance to boost inclusive international cooperation on the nexus of climate, trade, and sustainable development. The coalition’s launch statement outlines a set of four principles that will guide its work: cooperation, inclusivity, leadership, and transparency. The statement also identifies five priorities that the coalition will advance through concrete actions.

This launch of the coalition is “tremendously good news” said TESS Director Carolyn Deere Birkbeck. “Inclusive, high-level political engagement that connects the dots between climate, trade, and sustainable development is long overdue, especially given mounting tensions. The fact that the coalition’s priorities include building alliances and partnerships with climate and finance communities and relevant stakeholders is a great step forward. And so is the fact that the coalition includes and welcomes participation of a regionally diverse group of countries, from the most vulnerable to climate impacts to the largest economies and highest greenhouse gas emitters.”

You can read more about the coalition launch on their new website and a blog by the co-leads. For background on the origins of the coalition, see this news item on the launch of the informal dialogue of ministers held in June 2022. You can also access the 2021 article authored by Carolyn Deere Birkbeck calling for stronger cooperation among trade ministers on climate action.

TESS in Davos on the Trade and Sustainability Interface

At this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos on 16–20 January, the TESS Director was in demand on an array of issues at the interface of trade and sustainability. The Davos 2023 slogan was Cooperation in a fragmented world. Sustainability and climate issues were high on the agenda and present in many debates.

Beyond her engagement in the launch of the Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate, Carolyn Deere Birkbeck was invited to moderate three sessions.

At Geneva Day @ House of Switzerland on 17 January, Carolyn moderated the opening high-level panel on Beat plastic pollution: Delivering systems change at speed and scale, where the presidents of Switzerland and Ecuador delivered keynotes, and the head of the WHO, the Rwandan Environment Minister, and leaders from civil society and the private sector spoke.

Carolyn then moderated a WEF session on Delivering a global plastics treaty: Catalysing action towards 2024. At the session, leaders from government, including ministers from Indonesia, Colombia, and Rwanda, civil society, and the business sector unpacked the challenges and opportunities of a global treaty.

Earlier that day, Carolyn moderated a WEF session on Enabling circularity of critical materials, with speakers including the Minister of Trade of Zambia and business executives from a range of relevant sectors.

What We're Publishing

Regional Perspectives on Trade and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

At the end of last quarter, we launched a new series of policy papers commissioned by TESS with partners on Regional perspectives on trade, climate change, and sustainable development. In a first phase, the series offers views from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the broader category of least developed countries. Each paper has been prepared by experts and institutions from the region and seeks to highlight regional perspectives and priorities on the role of international trade cooperation in supporting climate mitigation and adaptation and climate-resilient sustainable development.

The first policy paper released for the launch was Trade and climate-resilient development in Africa: Towards a global green new deal, authored by Faizel Ismail and co-published with the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance. This has since been followed by A Southeast Asian perspective on trade and climate change mitigation and adaptation, authored by Alice Pham and co-published with CUTS International Geneva, and Trade-related climate priorities for CARICOM in World Trade Organization negotiations, authored Jan Yves Remy and co-published with the Shridath Ramphal Centre (SRC). Both policy papers were released in January 2023.

A video of a working session on regional perspectives on trade and climate change co-hosted by TESS and regional partners at the 2022 WTO Public is available. Stay tuned for the release of more papers in the coming weeks and months.

Trade and Sustainability in the Agricultural Sector 

In December 2022, TESS published a policy brief authored by Christophe Bellmann on Trade and sustainability in the agricultural sector: Options for multilateral trade cooperation. The paper explores the complex relationship between trade, trade policies, and sustainability in the agricultural sector in light of the challenges facing the global food system, environment, and sustainable development. The issues discussed range from subsidies, market access, and standards to new regulations on supply chains and deforestation. Building on this work, TESS convened a deep dive roundtable on key aspects of the trade and sustainable agriculture interface on 14 and 15 December 2022 in Geneva. Speaker presentations are available for download.

The WTO Dialogue on Plastics Pollution

In December 2022, we also published a policy brief by Carolyn Deere Birkbeck, Mahesh Sugathan, and Simon Ardila Eraso on The WTO Dialogue on Plastics Pollution: Overview and state of play. The paper is intended as an introduction for government officials and stakeholders keen to understand more about the origins and work of the dialogue. It reviews the Dialogue on Plastics Pollution’s evolution, purpose, and work, and also presents an overview of key options for trade-related cooperation identified to date. TESS further participated in a workshop on Sustainable and effective substitutes and alternatives for plastics organized by the Dialogue on Plastics Pollution in cooperation with UNCTAD.

Sustainable Supply Chains and Deforestation

In January 2023, TESS co-published a presentation by Marianne Kettunen on the landscape of trade policy initiatives and emerging issues on Sustainable supply chains and deforestation. Using an innovative format, the aim is to provide an easy to access and adaptable resource to experts, academics, decision-makers, policymakers, IGOs, and NGOs working in the field.

Our Quarterly Graph

Multilateral Trade and Agriculture Governance and Other Trade-Relevant Governing Institutions 

Our quarterly graph is drawn from the TESS policy brief on trade and sustainability in the agricultural sector. The graph provides a schematic mapping of the different processes relevant to the way in which the World Trade Organization addresses the trade and agriculture nexus. Multilateral discussions on trade are informed by a range of high-level multilateral political declarations and commitments and international processes as well as bilateral and regional arrangements that provide broad political guidance to agricultural trade. High-level commitments and declarations are then advanced and operationalized through a range of international or regional institutions with influence over trade, and ultimately through national policies and action.