The WTO and the Sustainable Development Goals

The WTO is central to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which set targets to be achieved by 2030 in areas such as poverty reduction, health, education and the environment. The SDGs put significant emphasis on the role that trade plays in promoting sustainable development and recognize the contribution that the WTO can make to the 2030 Agenda.

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By delivering and implementing trade reforms which are pro-growth and pro-development, and by continuing to foster stable, predictable and equitable trading relations across the world, the WTO is playing an important role in delivering the SDGs, just as it did with the Millennium Development Goals before them.

The WTO's contribution to achieving the SDGs

The WTO is playing an important role in the achievement of the UN's Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and collaborates closely with the UN's Department for Economic and Social Affairs in monitoring progress in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The WTO reports annually to the UN's High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on WTO efforts to achieve trade-specific targets in the SDGs. The HLPF is the UN's main means of reviewing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and allows all UN members and specialised agencies to meet annually to evaluate progress on achieving the SDGs.

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How trade contributes to delivering key Sustainable Development Goals

SDG1SDG 1: No Poverty

There is increasing evidence that well planned and strategically executed trade policy initiatives can impact positively on sustainable poverty reduction. Trade opening has also generated higher living standards through greater productivity, increased competition and more choice for consumers and better prices in the marketplace.

SDG2SDG 2: Zero Hunger

Eliminating subsidies that cause distortions in agriculture markets will lead to fairer more competitive markets helping both farmers and consumers while contributing to food security. The WTO’s 2015 decision on export competition eliminated export subsidies in agriculture, thereby delivering on Target 2.B of this goal.

SDG3SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being

One of the main objectives under SDG 3 is to ensure access to affordable medicines for all. An important amendment to the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement recently entered into force in 2017. This measure will make it easier for developing countries to have a secure legal pathway to access affordable medicines in line with Target 3.B of this goal.

SDG5SDG 5: Gender Equality

Trade can create opportunities for women’s employment and economic development. Through trade, job opportunities for women have increased significantly. Jobs in export sectors also tend to have better pay and conditions. Export sectors are an important job provider for women in developing countries.

SDG8SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Trade-led inclusive economic growth enhances a country’s income-generating capacity, which is one of the essential prerequisites for achieving sustainable development. The WTO’s Aid for Trade initiative can make a big difference in supplementing domestic efforts in building trade capacity, and SDG 8 contains a specific target for countries to increase support under this initiative.

SDG9SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Trade produces dynamic gains in the economy by increasing competition and the transfer of technology, knowledge and innovation. Open markets have been identified as a key determinant of trade and investment between developing and developed countries allowing for the transfer of technologies which result in industrialization and development, helping to achieve SDG 9.

SDG10SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

At the global level, changes in development patterns have been transforming prospects of the world’s poorest people, decreasing inequality between countries. WTO rules try to reduce the impact of existing inequalities through the principle of Special and Differential Treatment for Developing Countries. This allows the use of flexibilities by developing and least-developed countries to take into account their capacity constraints.

SDG14SDG 14: Life Below Water

WTO members have been negotiating global rules to curb harmful fisheries subsidies since 2001. The adoption by world leaders in September 2015 of the UN SDGs, and the negotiating mandate agreed at the WTO 11th Ministerial Conference in 2017 gave a renewed sense of urgency to the talks. The current chair of the negotiations has suggested members start off 2022 by continuing to work on issues where further technical work is needed.

SDG17SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

SDG 17 recognizes trade as a means of implementation for the 2030 Agenda. The targets under this goal call for: countries to promote a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system; the increase of developing countries’ exports and doubling the share of exports of least-developed countries (LDCs); and the implementation of duty-free and quota-free market access for LDCs with transparent and simple rules of origin for exported goods. The WTO is the key channel for delivering these goals.


Sustainable Development Goals



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