Trade—where it increases or changes the nature of economic activity—almost inevitably has an impact on the natural environment. The magnitude of this impact—and indeed whether the impact is largely positive or negative—depends on many factors, linked both to the trade flows, regulations and agreements themselves as well as to supporting policies and measures aimed at mitigating environmental threats and enhancing environmental opportunities.

Fisheries trade provides a good example of this dynamic. While trade liberalization in fish and fish products can provide an incentive for stepping up fishing efforts and thereby risk over-exploitation of the resource, effective fisheries management systems can limit fishing to sustainable levels and in the long-run might even help fishers obtain price premiums for sustainably harvested fish products if successfully certified and marketed.

Realities are of course much more complex and policy-makers usually have to balance a myriad of different interests within the broader context of sustainable development that seeks to balance trade and environment considerations with priorities for equitable social development. TKN research aims to help better understand the real environmental risks and opportunities of trade, and how trade-related policies, institutions and agreements can support positive environmental outcomes as an integral part of countries' pursuit of sustainable development.