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Audioblog: Trade in the post-2015 context – what do the trade experts say?

Leah Worrall's picture
Leah Worrall
December 2013

Leah Worrall, Project Officer for ODI's International Economic Development Group, collates her interviews with 10 trade experts from Asia, Africa and Europe at last week’s WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali, asking ‘What is the role of trade in the post-2015 framework for development?’

Trade should be on the ‘to do list’ this week as the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) meets for its sixth session  to discuss means of implementation (MoI) for the post-2015 agenda. Trade, as an enabler for economic development, is a key MoI. To highlight its role, I asked 10 trade experts: ‘What is the role of trade in the post-2015 framework for development?’ and divided the responses into three areas:

  • responses on the general role of trade in reaching post-2015 development goals
  • responses on specific quantifiable trade targets, and
  • other responses on the contributions of specific trade policies.


The role of trade in reaching post-2015 development goals

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Mustafizur believed that trade must work to meet the target set at the 4th UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC IV) in 2011, where developed and developing countries agreed to halve the number of developing countries by 2020. Supply-side capacity building will be vital to meet this target. The spread of benefits within countries will also need to be addressed, including global partnerships that promote small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and participation in global value chains (GVCs).

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Rashid emphasised the key role of trade in the post-2015 agenda, as trade means building productive capacities, bolstering foreign-exchange earnings, providing resources for infrastructure and poverty reduction, and the inclusion of marginalised populations. He stressed that efforts are needed on trade at every level, from local to international.

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Carlos argued that trade has an important role in delivering economic development, but it needs to be subject to a proper regulatory environment to reduce negative externalities, ensure the poorest parts of society benefit, and be compatible with a sustainable strategy for development.

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Fahmida highlighted the critical role of trade for development in the light of declining official development assistance (ODA). She pointed out that LDCs and low-income countries also face other trade challenges that go beyond plugging the ODA gap. These include a lack of diversification of products and markets, unfavourable terms of trade, a lack of infrastructure and skills, and regulatory frameworks, in order to take advantage of international agreements.

  • Dr Richard Record, Senior Economist and Trade Specialist in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Sector Department for the East Asia and Pacific Region, World Bank

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Richard responded that trade will be just as relevant for countries post-2015, even though the post-2015 framework itself may become less relevant for middle-income countries. He believed that countries will still be looking to improve trade facilitation, gain better market access, improve competitiveness and become more integrated into GVCs.

Quantifiable targets on trade in a post-2015 context

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Bernard responded that it is important to have quantifiable trade targets that can be monitored, for example bringing down trade costs by a certain percentage over a certain period of time.

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Ganeshan advocated trade-led growth as the fastest way to reduce poverty. The post-2015 agenda could include a trade index on the pace and quality of trade growth, as well as the involvement of SMEs to ensure the inclusiveness of the process

The role of trade policy

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Peter suggested that trade is best understood on two levels as (1) unilateral trade policy and (2) multilateral trade strategy. What countries do unilaterally is most important, and Aid for Trade and trade agreements are both needed help to support unilateral reform efforts. Establishing a regional trade agreement (RTA) exchange will be important to gather, absorb and implement best practices.

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Pradeep described trade as a crucial engine for growth. He also highlighted problems under the EU agricultural policy, with inadequate reforms hampering trade and growth prospects for developing countries.

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Jamie’s podcast focused on food security. I asked him ‘Why are current trade negotiations important for future food security, and are there any implications for the post-2015 development framework?’ He responded that the current debate concentrates on whether the trade and market policies successfully used by OECD countries to develop their agricultural sectors, but which are inefficient in achieving their contemporary objectives,  are necessarily  bad policies for developing countries to use. He argued that there is a need to use existing evidence, which has yet to be properly synthesised, to inform decisions on appropriate approaches for individual countries.

These responses from trade experts show just how important trade will be in the post-2015 agenda for reaching sustainable development objectives, and they generate valuable insights into proactive policies and indicators that can be part of that agenda. These should be considered by the OWG this week, and by the international community more generally, to ensure the trade dimensions of development are addressed.