Podcast Feature: Trade Policy and Voluntary Sustainability Standards

The integration of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) into trade policies is a potential powerful means to upscale its adoption as trade policies today are increasingly being used to pursue non-trade objectives, including those related to sustainability.

In the last few decades, complemented with the exponential growth in international trade, VSS have increasingly been incorporated into some trade policy instruments, although it may be too early to detect clear trends as of today. Nevertheless, such inclusion reflects the commitment of trade partners in promoting fair and ethical trade schemes in its trade policies. For many, VSS can be seen as instruments that fosters access to lucrative markets, putting certified suppliers at an advantage in the export sector. These certifications are considered as proofs that value chains take sustainability concerns into consideration. VSS are also used in many different ways to make trade more sustainable. Both trade and VSS can complement each other as policy tools to pursue equitable growth and sustainable development.

Making market access conditional on certification and developing export promotion measures in favour of certification can contribute to further upscaling VSS adoption. However, with the growth on the number of VSS available in the market, this may be a force to reckon with governmental legislations when it comes to significance and impact.

Produced in partnership with the Evidensia, Ms. Vidya Rangan, Senior Manager for Impacts and Evidence at ISEAL, talks to UNCTAD Senior Economist and UNFSS Coordinator, Mr. Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba, and Deputy Director of the Leuven entre for Global Governance Studies, Dr. Axel Marx, about the debates surrounding trade policy and VSS, particularly in the context of the 4th Flagship report published by UNFSS in September 2020 in the podcast below.

Link: Trade policy and VSS – Evidensia

The podcast is divided into 4 parts:

Part 1 (1:50): History of VSS and Trade Policy – is trade policy trying to play “catch-up” with the advances in VSS and their potential to support governments in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? – by Dr. Axel Marx

Part 2 (6:23): Trade policy – what are the main instruments and what are their touch points with VSS? How and to what extent are VSS reference in these policy instruments? – by Mr. Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba

Part 3 (12:01): Linking trade policy to VSS – understanding the differences between approaches by developed and developing countries – what are the main challenges arising from this? How can they be mitigated? Are there specific trade instruments that can be used to address some of these challenges better? – by Dr. Axel Marx

Part 4 (20:56): Where do we go from here? by Mr. Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba

Stay tuned for more UNFSS Academic Advisory Council (AAC) – Evidensia podcast series on VSS.

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.