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UN warns against lopsided trade rules, climate change, others

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Sequel to global leaders moves to assess the intricate supply chain vulnerabilities of essential goods due to COVID-19-related trade restrictions, the United Nations, yesterday, insisted that there was a need to realign structure and substance of trade rules to respond to rising inequalities, climate change, and frustrations with trade’s role in development.

While G20 governments continue to impose trade-restrictive measures, the UN noted that these come when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) reforms are on the table, as its negotiation and adjudication functions have been weakened by the ongoing U.S.-China trade wars.

This was contained in a report authored by Chief of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), New York Office, Chantal Carpentier, and Visiting Professor at Georgetown Law School and President and Founder of New Markets Lab (NML), Katrin Kuhlmann.

The report said: “Substantively, the new model we propose would mean reassessing trade rules in terms of their ability to advance economic, social and environmental dimensions of the SDGs and other international efforts, macroeconomic policies, business and human rights principles, and a balanced approach to the rule of law.

“It would include a stronger focus on trade and global health in line with SDG three (on good health and wellbeing) and development of a comprehensive food security and trade approach to deliver on SDG two (on ensuring zero hunger).”

It added that building on existing models such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), would help alignment with the social development goals (SDGs).

“This provides a rare opportunity to rethink the way our international trade treaties are negotiated, designed and implemented, as well as strengthen the links between trade and development,” the report said.

The UN therefore proposed the need to better align with the economic and social development priorities and environmental commitments in the SDGs, the Paris Agreement, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

It also reiterated the need for models to be developed and implemented through more transparent and participatory processes that are differentiated and tailored to countries’ specific needs, which would require further research and investment in new and improved tools.

The UN noted that the 17 SDGs offer a framework, through their 169 targets and 232 indicators, to bridge concerns on all sides of the trade debate, and help replace the zero-sum narrative that was already emerging before the pandemic.


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