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Initiative on Mainstreaming Sustainable Development Provisions in Trade Agreements

Background and Objective:

Following the success and achievements of the Initiative on Model Provisions for Trade in Times of Crisis and Pandemic in Regional and other Trade Agreements (IMP), ESCAP has launched a follow-up Initiative on Mainstreaming Sustainable Development Provisions in Regional Trade Agreements, in continued collaboration with UNCTAD, UN Regional Commissions and other IMP partners. This initiative builds on long-standing work at ESCAP and many IMP partners on enhancing the contribution of trade to sustainable development (e.g., see APTIR 2017).

Regional trade agreements are increasingly addressing various aspects of sustainable development through specific provisions and chapters. Developed economies and a growing number of developing economies have included provisions related to health, environment, labour rights, engagement of small and medium sized-enterprises and environment. Many less developed economies have expressed concerns about the inclusion of such non-trade issues as they create potential new trade barriers. At the same time, however, governments in key international markets are taking steps to increase sustainable development related non-tariff measures in trade agreements and this trend may be expected to accelerate.

Acknowledging such trend, this initiative aims to build the capacity of developing countries to design and negotiate sustainable development provisions that take into account their specific situation, and to encourage research and discussions on maximizing the impact of such provisions in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Activities and outcomes:

Based on an updated Handbook on Negotiating Sustainable Development Provisions in Preferential Trade Agreements, ESCAP delivered an online course on how to negotiate sustainable development provisions, quizzes and live sessions, 200+ people participated and 130+ of them got the certificate. This course continues being available online, participants can do self-paced learning at any time.

Building on the IMP handbook on trade in times of crisis, a Handbook on Provisions and Options for Trade and Sustainable Development has been developed covering chapters on environment, labour, gender, MSMEs, and Investment. ESCAP and the core advisory group have reviewed the draft and will publish the Handbook soon, in cooperation with the Center on Inclusive Trade and Development at Georgetown University. The Handbook uniquely provides a range of options of provisions for sustainable development with explanation on their binding nature and flexibility from legal perspective.

  • Online course (forthcoming 2023)

A series of online courses based on the Handbook on Provisions and Options for Trade and Sustainable Development will be provided, including e-learning course materials (readings, video lecturers, quizzes etc.) and interactive live sessions. The course aim to enhance the capacity of trade negotiators and stakeholders to understand and develop provisions for sustainable development in trade agreements. This upcoming course will provide deeper discussion on specific legal provisions than the course in 2022.

  • Integration of sustainable development topics in Legal TINA (2023-)

Legal TINA is an extension of the original Trade Intelligence and Negotiation Adviser (TINA), focused more on explanation on the text of legal provisions and providing options for provisions in main issue areas of RTAs.


Other activities under the initiative may be considered upon consultation from the advisory group and focal points, as well as upon request by member states. 


Advisory group, peer-reviewers and contributors:

Katrin Kuhlmann, Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director, Center on Inclusive Trade and Development, Georgetown University and President and Founder, New Markets Lab

Henry Gao, Professor of Law, Yong Pung How School of Law, Singapore Management University 

Simon J. Evenett, Professor of International Trade and Economic Development, University of St. Gallen

Richard Ouellet, Professor of international economic law, Université Laval

Mia Mikic, Trade Economist, Advisor at Large, ARTNeT

Paul Baker, Chief Executive, International Economics Consulting Ltd., Mauritius

Deborah Elms, Executive Director, Asian Trade Centre and Vice Chair, Asia Business Trade Association

Stephen Olson, Research Fellow, Hinrich Foundation

Tracey Epps, Trade lawyer and consultant, former Advisor for New Zealand’s trade negotiating team

Nadia Hasham, Trade Policy Expert; and Emmanuelle Bugeau, Consultant, African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC), Regional Integration and Trade Division (RITD), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)

Marva Corley-Coulibaly, Chief, Globalization, Competitiveness and Labour Standards Unit; Franz Christian Ebert, Research Officer in Labour Law; Elizabeth Echeverria Manrique, Labour Law Officer, Governance Department; and Karen Curtis, Chief, Freedom of Association Branch, International Labour Standards Department, International Labour Organization (ILO)

Daniel Ramos, Legal Officer, Legal Expert on Sustainable Supply Chains, World Trade Organization (WTO)

Lolita Laperle Forget, Analyst of the Women, Business and the Law project, World Bank

Focal points from collaborating United Nations and other international organizations:

ECA (Africa): Simon Mevel, African Trade Policy Center

ECLAC (Latin America): Sebastian Herreros,  International Trade and Integration Division

UNCTAD: Miho Shirotori, Chief, Trade Negotiations and Commercial Diplomacy Branch, and Taisuke Ito, Economic Affairs Officer

UNECE: Elisabeth Tuerk, Director, Economic Cooperation and Trade

WTO: Gabrielle Marceau, Senior Counsellor, Research Division


ESCAP: Yann Duval, Chief, Trade Policy and Facilitation Section, Trade, Investment and Innovation Division; Runqiu Du, Assistant Coordinator, Trade Policy and Facilitation Section, Trade, Investment and Innovation Division (email: [email protected], [email protected]  copied to [email protected]).

This IMP follow-up initiative benefited from the support of the UN Development Account project on Trade and Transport in the Age of Pandemics, a joint UNCTAD-UN Regional Commissions project.