Podcast feature: Voluntary sustainability standards and trade in developing countries 

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Globalization has brought profound changes to international trade over the last 50 years. Value chains are now spread around the globe and are becoming more complex. Today, about US $8 trillion worth of world trade goes through Global Value Chains (GVCs), accounting for nearly 70% of the total share of global trade. According to UNCTAD’s research, majority of the developing countries are increasingly participating in GVCs. As a result, the developing-country share in global value-added trade increased from 20% in 1990 to 30% in 2000 to over 40% today.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on these value chains have been severe and far-reaching. Governments worldwide have enforced strict measures to curb the spread of the virus, upending businesses and livelihoods. However, the effects of the pandemic are felt most by the developing countries and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as they are least prepared to deal with such shocks.

Supply chain disruptions have highlighted the fragility of global value chains, especially for producers involved in activities with low-value addition levels. Thus, as the trade policy community explores options to rebuild from COVID-19’s devastation and learn from its economic impacts, an option that merits further consideration is the role that voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) can play in post-COVID-19 recovery trade strategies. It is through GVCs that VSS can diffuse social and environmental standards globally. Still, many questions remained unexplored about the role of VSS and the key opportunities and challenges from a developing country’s standpoint.

UNFSS, in partnership with Evidensia, released their second podcast in the series on Trade and VSS. While the first podcast, which was released in February 2021, introduced the topic of Trade and VSS and shared insights from the 4th flagship report of UNFSS, this second podcast delves deeper into the concern and discusses the potential of VSS to support trade and growth goals of developing countries and LDCs in the light of COVID-19.

The podcast, published below, presents a dialogue where Ms. Vidya Rangan, Senior Manager for Impacts and Evidence at ISEAL, talks to Ms. Niematallah Elamin, Associate Economic Affairs Officer at UNCTAD; Ms. Archana Negi, Associate Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India; and Ms. Mercedes Aráoz Fernández, former Vice President of Peru and Professor of Economics at Universidad del Pacifico. They discuss the specific issues that developing countries face and how VSS fit into the strategies to foster an inclusive and sustainable recovery from the pandemic. Together, they explore the effects of the pandemic, like loss of employment, on countries like India and Peru. All three speakers provide vital recommendations to leverage VSS in the context of trade and developing countries.

Some of the highlights and imperative issues discussed in the podcast are:

  1. Overview of what would be the key focus of developing countries for the next three to four years, both in economic and development terms, to build back better from the impacts of the pandemic (2:05)- By Ms. Niematallah Elamin
  2. Synthesis of what has already been discussed in the literature on the potentials and limitations of VSS from the perspective of developing countries (7:55)- By Ms. Archana Negi
  3. Insights on how VSS, in particular, can serve are tools for helping developing countries in a sustainable recovery from the pandemic (13:04)- By Ms. Niematallah Elamin
  4. Illustration of the role that VSS can play in enhancing export and improving social, economic, and environmental conditions in developing countries, and furthering the SDGs (14:55)- By Ms. Mercedes Aráoz Fernández
  5. Role of the growing momentum of national VSS (17:55)- By Ms. Archana Negi

Tune in now to listen to this exciting dialogue and learn more about VSS’s role in the trade and growth goals of developing countries and LDCs in light of the current pandemic.

Other Relevant Sources:

Last podcast on trade policy and VSS Trade policy and VSS – Evidensia

Upscaling VSS: a double-edge sword? Upscaling VSS: a double-edged sword? – Evidensia

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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