UNFSS in CII/IISD Conference – New Delhi, India

UNFSS addresses CII/IISD Conference on Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: Its Impact on India and Developing Nations in New Delhi, India on 12 August 2014.

Ulrich Hoffmann, Coordinator of the UNFSS, was invited by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development to make a presentation on the importance of private sustainability standards for market access, their role as governance tool in international supply chains and their contribution to achieving specific sustainable development objectives at the Conference on Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: Its Impact on India and Developing Nations. Mr.Arpit Bhutani, member of the UNFSS Support Team assisted Mr.Hoffman during the conference and for other side events. The meeting was attended by the Indian Commerce Secretary, Mr. Rajeev Kher, the Secretary for Economic Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Sujata Mehta, the Joint Secretary, Commerce Ministry, Mr. J.S Deepak, several former Indian ambassadors to the WTO and other Indian dignitaries.

The Commerce Secretary emphasized that the substantive issues in plurilateral free trade negotiations had changed from tariffs to behind border issues, which besides investment, competition policy and IPRs also included environmental and ethical issues, which fueled the creation and proliferation of private sustainability standards. According to the Commerce Secretary, these standards were becoming very powerful tools for easing or complicating market access and for governing international supply chains. It was therefore important that India developed a coherent strategy on sustainability standards and improved its capacity for standard setting, conformity assessment and standard implementation. Ms.Sujata Mehta emphasized the fact that TPP would set very high standards among member countries both for goods and services. The agreement would also encourage private standards that would keep evolving upwards, including by referencing them. Some of these private schemes may take on a normative or descriptive character.

In the session on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Negotiations: Implication for Likely Standards & Regulatory Changes in India (see agenda below), Mr. Hoffmann illustrated the importance and the challenges of private sustainability standards using the private standard landscape for electronics and for food being procured by globally active supermarkets. Mr.Hoffmann pointed out that, from an Indian perspective, it was important to take into consideration the following issues:

  • Private sustainability standards were increasingly explicitly or implicitly referred to in free trade agreements, which give them credibility and reinforced their role.
  • Private standards also played a growing role in South-South trade, in particular in East and South-East Asia. There was a need to closely watch policy approaches and harmonization/ equivalence attempts among ASEAN and its trade with China.
  • China was likely to put its particular stamp on the development of a regionally coordinated approach on private sustainability standards in East and South-East Asia because of its market size.
  • Several private standard schemes were already applied in India (e.g. the Global Organic Textile Standard, ECOMark, AgroMark, IndGAP, organic standards). It was important to study their experience.
  • There was also a need to analyze and emulate successful national approaches dealing pro-actively with private sustainability standards, e.g. the National Program for Organic Production and the supportive role of APEDA (the Agricultural and Food Products Export Development Authority).

Mr. Hoffmann also briefly elaborated in his presentation on the proposal of UNFSS to support the Indian Commerce Ministry in setting up and backstopping a National Platform on Voluntary Sustainability Standards as a demand-driven and Indian-steered initiative.


Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Agenda


The United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS) is a joint initiative of 5 UN Agencies (FAO, ITC, UNCTAD, UN Environment and UNIDO) that seeks to address these challenges. It is a demand-driven forum for intergovernmental actors to communicate among each other and engage with key target groups (producers, traders, consumers, standard-setters, certification-bodies, trade diplomats, relevant NGOs and researchers) to address their information needs and influence concerned stakeholders. It aims to provide impartial information, analysis, and discussions on VSS and their potential contribution to facilitate market access, strengthen public goods and achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most importantly, the UNFSS focuses on potential trade or development obstacles VSS may create, with particular emphasis on their impact on SMEs and less developed countries.

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