2nd ICSTS: Moving towards the five C’s of Sustainability Standards Systems

Concept Note
Programme in PDF

Coherence, Collaboration, Cooperation, Convergence and Consensus were five of the most widely ‘referred to’ concepts that highlighted the key-takeaway of the 2nd International Convention on Sustainable Trade and Standards (ICSTS) held in Rio de Janeiro in September 2019. These are the 5 important C’s that could potentially reinforce the positive impacts of sustainability standards systems.

Being one of the proud co-organizers of the 2nd ICSTS, the convention hosted more than 500 participants over the course of 3 days. The convention welcomed high-level government officials from Brazil, along with United Nations representatives from FAO, UNIDO, UN Environment, UNCTAD and ITC, and international representatives from 20 different countries such as the University of Leuven (Belgium) and University of Chuo Gakuin (Japan), ASTM International (US), the German Development Institute, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (Canada), International Organization of Standardization (Geneva), the Andean Community Secretariat (Bolivia and Spain), ISEAL Alliance (UK), the Standardization Association of China, Quality Council of India, the South African Bureau of Standards as well as representatives from LATAM which includes Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, Uruguay, among many others.

The dynamic mix of participants from government officials, industry associations, standards-setters, standards bodies, academia, international organizations to private companies and civil society representatives gave the dialogue a much needed perspective that looks upon issues from all sides, while addressing them in such a way that recognizes the fundamentals of the 5C’s.

For the host country, Brazil, the need to work towards meeting the 2030 Agenda emphasizes sustainable production as a mean to access wider markets. Where VSS is concerned, being private international standards that are non-government associated have been characterized as commercial barriers even though they are contributing very much to the SDGs.

“It is important to note that exports from Brazil depends largely on agrobusiness, which have been affected by the need to implement sustainability criteria. As an example, estimates show that sustainability standards can affect 44% of the total value of Brazilian exports which can represent both as an opportunity and a challenge.” highlighted by Mr. Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba at the convention.

Driving the adoption of VSS

During the keynote presentation, the key challenges of VSS were addressed with the intention to realize the full potential of VSS in contributing to the SDGs. The fact that goods are no longer made only in one country but rather throughout the world, production lines are splintering which brings about the environmental and social consequences. VSS has been regarded as one of the most innovative solution to govern on a global scale. Dr. Axel Marx highlighted the key challenges as, “the need for the adoption of standards at a global scale, knowledge gap on the significant impacts caused by VSS and the proliferation of VSS”In terms of mainstreaming VSS, Professor Junji Nakagawa added the idea where VSS used to be a marginal phenomenon 30 years ago, Japan had recently made VSS a mandatory compliance for all the food chains supplying to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. As they are focused on food importing compared to export, Japanese producers were not able to realize the benefits of VSS. However, Professor Nakagawa claimed that “The result from the compliance of VSS for the Tokyo Olympic Games will drastically change the VSS uptake situation in Japan” as an example of driving the adoption.

>> watch live streaming of the keynote presentation

A Knowledge Sharing Platform

With nine panel discussions addressing 4 key components, i) the role of industry and agricultural actors, ii) the challenges of standards in global value chains, iii) the role of standards bodies/ standards setters and iv) the role of Multi-stakeholder platforms, the convention managed to put forth a moving forward agenda that highlights the need to foster collaborative standards systems by looking at incorporating the 5 C’s  where the National Multi-stakeholder VSS Platforms have a role towards the harmonization and mutual recognition of VSS.

While the topics discussed at the convention were based on real-case scenarios that are currently faced by the different actors participating in the dialogue, evidence-based case studies on ‘VSS on the Andean Community for EU trade’, an UNCTAD-led publication was presented by the Andean Community Secretariat, Deputy -Secretary General Huascar Ajata and Rodrigo Ruperez, and a preliminary overview on ‘The Brazilian VSS Story’ presented by Rogerio Correa from INMETRO Brazil. These studies are significant contributions to add informative value to the powerhouse which gave the impulses of the necessary understanding as to how VSS can be mutually beneficial for these countries. Thus, by bringing together participants from all over the world to participate in multilateral dialogues such as the ICSTS could potentially facilitate the adoption of these standards and incentivize trading partners to work together on the 5 C’s in order to boost sustainable trade systematically.

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