Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements


The WTO and the Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets that members of the United Nations have endorsed as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The purpose of the SDGs is to mobilize action over the next 15 years towards ending poverty and hunger, protecting the world from environmental degradation, and fostering prosperous, peaceful, just and inclusive societies. The SDGs take the place of the Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight goals that UN members agreed to achieve by 2015.

back to top



back to top


The SDGs put significant emphasis on the role that trade can play in promoting sustainable development. There are direct references to WTO activities in many of the SDGs, including:

  • SDG 2 on hunger, food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture
  • SDG 3 on healthy lives and wellbeing
  • SDG 8 on economic growth, employment and work
  • SDG 10 on inequalities within and among countries
  • SDG 14 on oceans, seas, and marine resources.

SDG 17 on strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development contains a separate section on trade, including a commitment to promoting a “universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system” under the WTO.


back to top

Harnessing trade to promote growth and reduce poverty  

The integration of developing countries into regional and global markets is a central theme in the SDGs. To help achieve this objective, the SDGs seek to ensure that trade plays its part in boosting growth, tackling poverty and promoting sustainable development. The SDGs identify the following priority areas relating to trade:

  • increase Aid for Trade support for developing countries, in particular the least-developed countries (LDCs) (SDG 8)
  • implement the principle of special and differential treatment for developing countries, in particular LDCs (SDG 10)
  • significantly increase the exports of developing countries, in particular with a view to doubling the LDC share of global exports by 2020 (SDG 17)
  • realize timely implementation of duty-free and quota-free market access on a lasting basis for all LDCs, including by ensuring that preferential rules of origin applicable to imports from LDCs are transparent and simple, and contribute to facilitating market access (SDG 17).


back to top

Harnessing trade as part of a long-term strategy against hunger 

The SDGs recognize that a more open, transparent and well-functioning global agricultural market is an essential element of a wider strategy to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. Policies that distort production and trade in agricultural commodities can undermine efforts to realize these goals, because they often stimulate inefficient and costly production where it would not otherwise occur and prevent the most competitive producers, many of which are located in developing countries, from participating in global trade.SDG 2calls for an end to trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets.


back to top

A win-win for trade and the environment 

The conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources is an essential element in promoting sustainable development. Amid growing concerns about the grave problems of overcapacity and overfishing in today's modern fisheries fleets, and the role that subsidies could play in exacerbating these problems, SDG 14calls for a prohibition by 2020 on “certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and to eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”.


Using WTO flexibilities to protect public health  back to top

SDG 3 on ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing includes the target of providing “access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines”. It recalls the 2001 Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right to use to the full the provisions in the TRIPS Agreement regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all.


Sustainable tourism and the SDGs back to top

Sustainable tourism, the trade-related aspects of which are covered under the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), plays a prominent role in the SDGs. For example, SDG 8 calls for policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products, while SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production patterns highlights the importance of developing and implementing tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism. Furthermore, SDG 14 seeks to increase the economic benefits to small island developing states and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.


back to top

Using trade to help disseminate energy technologies 

SDG 7 does not directly mention trade but it underlines the importance of “international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology”. Among the myriad expressions of cooperation in the field of technology is the elimination of barriers that hinder the movement of green goods and services between countries. More open trade in such goods and services should make them cheaper and more accessible to producers and consumers around the world, lowering the cost of attaining key environmental protection goals in developing and developed countries alike.


back to top

Strengthening global trade cooperation for sustainable development 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development defines international trade as “an engine for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction, [that] contributes to the promotion of sustainable development”. The adoption of Agenda 2030 commits UN member states to continue to promote “meaningful” trade liberalization over the next 15 years to help maximize the contribution of trade to the success of the sustainable development agenda.

> Problems viewing this page?
Please contact giving details of the operating system and web browser you are using.