Cargo ships docked at a port


International trade and trade policy have a significant impact on the way we live, from the costs of the goods and services we buy, to the performance of the various economic sectors that we either work in or rely on. While trade has the potential to advance sustainable, low-carbon development, it can also be a hindrance to that objective, depending on how trade policy is designed and implemented. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement climate commitments present fundamental challenges to trade policy; so too does the fraying of multilateralism. 

IISD has been working on international trade for over two decades, analyzing the issue from multiple perspectives: scientific, economic, fiscal, legal, social, and environmental. 

At the intergovernmental level, IISD has a long history of working on reforms to the World Trade Organization’s rules and members’ ability to engage in those processes. IISD has also built an extensive body of work on regional and plurilateral trade agreements, as well as the interlinkages between multilateral environmental agreements and the trading system.

At the sectoral level, we have explored options for new industrial policies functioning within a rules-based system; innovative financing for sustainable infrastructure; border-carbon adjustment measures; and whether trade can accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources, improve food security, and eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies and fossil fuel subsidies. Our work also unpacks the relationship between voluntary sustainability standards and trade, as well as the role of trade in contributing to the circular economy.

IISD's work in this area is backed by robust research and policy analysis, along with regular engagement with the varied stakeholder communities involved in and affected by trade and trade policy. A core part of this engagement involves our work to promote transparency and support informed trade conversations.

We feature in-depth commentary and analysis in Investment Treaty News, the Global Subsidies Initiative, the SDG Knowledge Hub, and the Trade and Sustainability Review. We hold webinars on issues at the heart of the trade and sustainability nexus, as part of our partnership with the University of Geneva's Faculty of Law. 

Our work on trade issues is made possible through the generous support of our funders. These include:

  • UK aid from the UK government, including its Trade and Investment Advocacy Fund (TAF2+)
  • Pew Charitable Trusts
  • German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ)
  • Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
  • Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Swedish MFA)
  • International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (NZ MFAT)
  • Government of Finland