Launch Preview: The 3rd UNFSS Flagship on VSS, Trade and Sustainable Development

What are the impacts of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) from the trade policy perspective?
Can one consider VSS as a market access enhancer, or barriers to trade?
What sustainability concerns do VSS address?

The relationship between VSS, trade and sustainable development are among the most pronounced concepts sought-after the realm of green global value chains. The three questions above typically highlights the main components where the influence of VSS over export opportunities can either facilitate market access or become an obstacle to trade. More often than not, the obstacles are greatly impacting Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and small-scale producers, notably in developing countries.

So what can public actors do to support VSS’ contribution on trade opportunities?
What can potentially be the stipulated roles of global governance?

The 3rd UNFSS Flagship is set to impart an agenda surrounding VSS and its relation to trade issues, in particular the impact of VSS on market access. The intent of this flagship aims to address VSS, trade and sustainable development in two chapters.

The first chapter analyses the effects of VSS in the global economy by:

  • identifying the direct and indirect effects of VSS on sustainable development and trade,
  • providing bench-marking analysis with reference to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda,
  • determining the indirect effect of VSS as either a market access enabler or barrier, that
  • eventually ensues policy considerations in the effort to strengthen VSS through public governance.

The second chapter complements the first chapter with a focus on the National VSS Multi-Stakeholder approaches, which predominantly sees the evolution of VSS taking shape in developing countries. This is followed with the national platform establishments and knowledge-sharing contributions by three pilot countries of this initiative.

  • Brazil
  • China
  • India

These platforms provide a neutral forum for exchange and learning on VSS in the respective countries, linking the demand of national stakeholders with international expertise, and building a more institutionalized structure as a tool to strengthen communications regarding VSS. In addition, the platform aims to gather information and concerns on key VSS issues from a national perspective and assess the information needs of decision-makers and other stakeholders in these countries.

The official launch of the 3rd Flagship publication will coincide with the “International Convention on Sustainable Trade and Standards: Leveraging Trade, Global Value Chains, and Standards as engines of Sustainable Development”, on the 17-18 September 2018 in New Delhi, India. The event is being organized by the Quality Council of India (QCI) in collaboration with UNFSS, and the India Private Sustainable Standards Platform (PSS). This conference which follows the UNFSS conferences last year, will be a converging point between best practices and disruptive ideas to tackle issues related to sustainability within the realm of global value chains, and consequently to leverage trade, standards, and global value chains as engines of sustainable development.


Background on the UNFSS Flagship:

In order to tackle the challenges that VSS posed on developing countries, UNFSS promotes pro-active approaches to national policy and information exchanges on VSS, which enables developing countries not only to minimize potential costs associated with adjustment to VSS, but also to maximize related economic, social and environmental benefits.

UNFSS publishes a twice-yearly flagship report on diverse topics to do with Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), our mission and activities, for our stakeholders from the public and private sectors. The first volume of the Flagship Report launched in 2013 was the interplay of VSS and public governance with a mapping exercise of key priority topics and initiatives related to VSS, raising questions and outlining the complexity of this thematic area. The 2016 Flagship Report seeks to further dissect the interplay between VSS and public governance processes by striving to answer the question “what are the optimal dynamics between VSS and public policy processes to ensure sustainability objectives are most efficiently met”.

The full Flagship publications can be found at: 

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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