IISD at the Geneva Trade Week

September 28, 2020 - October 2, 2020

(Open to public)

IISD supported the organization of the Sustainability stream of the Geneva Trade Week, held by the Geneva Trade Platform at the Graduate Institute between September 28 and October 2, 2020.

The entire event was held virtually, with attendees able to watch and participate in the sessions live.

Along with serving as the thematic partner for the sustainability stream, IISD organized that stream's high-level panel. IISD was also a co-organizer of two other sessions devoted to fossil fuel subsidy reform and agricultural trade and food security, respectively. The session descriptions, timing, and speaker lists are described below. All times are in Central European Summer Time (CEST). Each session lasted for 90 minutes.

This work is part of our wider effort at promoting transparency and supporting inclusive trade conversations, which is funded by UK aid from the UK government.

Related work includes regular trade reporting on the SDG Knowledge Hub, the upcoming launch of a quarterly magazine on trade in October 2020, a community list for sharing events and resources on trade and sustainable development, and a joint webinar series with the University of Geneva's Faculty of Law. Make sure to sign up to our mailing list on trade and sustainability news and analysis today.


High-Level Panel | Trade and Delivering the 2030 Agenda: Key priorities and the impact of COVID-19

This high-level panel set out some of the overarching themes for the sustainability pillar of Geneva Trade Week, examining the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in meeting the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Speakers considered this from a short-term perspective, as we seek immediate solutions to manage and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, and also review plans for fulfilling the longer-term sustainability agenda by the end of this decade. Speakers came from the fields of climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, fisheries, jobs, and health and were asked to present “To Do” actions for policy-makers, civil society, and other stakeholders to consider as we reshape our economic systems to be more socially and environmentally sustainable.  

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder, Executive Director, IISD Europe (moderator)
  • H.E. Albert Muchanga, Commissioner for Trade and Industry, African Union Commission
  • Suerie Moon, Co-Director of the Global Health Centre, Graduate Institute
  • John Murton, UNFCCC COP 26 Envoy, United Kingdom
  • Alexander Shestakov, Director of the Science, Society and Sustainable Futures Division, Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Elizabeth Wilson, Senior Director of Environmental Policy, Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Moustapha Kamal Gueye, Coordinator, Green Jobs Programme, International Labor Organization

Date and Time: Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 1 p.m. CEST

Organizer: IISD


Ensuring Food Security, Sustainably: What role for trade?

This session sought to explore how policies and interventions shaping trade and markets can contribute to food security and sustainability in the context of emerging challenges such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past decade, international agricultural and food markets have witnessed a number of changes and challenges that affect both domestic and international markets. At the same time, new trends and phenomena are emerging which are set to affect progress on Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the ability of governments to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. Trade patterns are likely to be influenced by climate change. At the same time, trade itself can constitute an adaptation strategy. More recently, the COVID­-19 pandemic has adversely affected food security, including through its effects on trade and markets.

Speakers considered the following questions:

  • How can policy-makers reconcile the need to adapt to climate change with the objective of ensuring food security, more sustainably?
  • How can trade in goods and services contribute to food security in the context of the COVID-19 challenge?
  • How can trade policy frameworks better address food system shocks?

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Ahmad Mukhtar, Economist, Trade Food Security, FAO Liaison Office Geneva (moderator)
  • Federica Angelucci, Senior Consultant, Inclusive Agribusiness Systems, International Trade Centre (ITC) Alliances for Action
  • Ambassador Cheryl Spencer, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva
  • Martina Bozzola, Senior Research Associate, Agricultural and Resource Economics Research Group, ZHAW and Lecturer in the Economics of Agriculture, Food, and Health, Queen's University Belfast (UK)
  • Jonathan Hepburn, Senior Policy Advisor, IISD

Date and Time: Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 3 p.m. CEST

Organizers: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), and IISD



This session showcased views and perspectives from the non-profit, non-governmental sector as represented in the group of over 150 organizations from around the world that have signed onto the Stop Funding Overfishing policy statement. Panelists included sustainable fisheries advocates who discussed why an ambitious WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies would support fishing communities on the ground/in the water and contribute to protecting the world’s ocean, as well as help WTO Members to build back better and reignite confidence in the rules-based trading regime. The overarching question guiding the discussion was "Why is an ambitious agreement to reform fisheries subsidies essential to ensure a sustainable and healthy ocean?"

Speakers considered the following related questions:

  • What is at stake, for fishers, and for the ocean? 
  • What are the consequences of failure, for marine resources and the coastal communities that depend on them?
  • What is the impact of harmful fisheries subsidies for communities in Peru, Japan, Tanzania and globally?
  • Why does eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies matter for people and nature?
  • How can sustainable fisheries be achieved through an ambitious WTO agreement? 
  • What must the international community do to ensure a successful outcome in 2020? 

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Debbie Charles, Managing Editor, DEVEX (moderator)
  • Kerstin Forsberg, Co-Founder/Director, Planeta Océano
  • Wakao Hanaoka, Founder/CEO, SeafoodLegacy
  • Michele Kuruc, Vice President, Ocean Policy, WWF
  • Editrudith Lukanga; Executive Director, EMEDO

Date and Time: Wednesday, September 30, 2020 at 3 p.m. CEST

Organizers: Pew Charitable Trusts, Friends of Ocean Action, and IISD

Tackling Fossil Fuel Subsidies for a Greener Future: Is the WTO up to the task?

Despite fossil fuels’ widely recognized responsibility for causing global climate change, many governments continue to provide extensive support for their production and consumption. Fossil fuel subsidies were estimated at almost USD 500 billion in 2019. Recent research has also shown that COVID-19 recovery plans, in many cases, involve spending on activities involving fossil fuel production or use that is around double that allocated to clean energy. Detailed information on fossil fuel subsidies is also scant, complicating efforts at discussing reform options. 

In addition to the well-known environmental impacts, fossil fuel subsidies can also have far-reaching social, economic, and trade consequences. They constitute a considerable burden on often scarce public funds and can significantly distort competition in the market for renewable energy, thwarting the much-needed energy transition.

Given its experience in negotiating and establishing multilateral rules on subsidies in different areas, the World Trade Organization would appear to be the forum of choice to tackle fossil fuel support measures. With an absence of WTO disputes on the issue and a famously low record of compliance with subsidy notification requirements, however, it currently remains unclear whether the WTO is best suited for fostering better transparency and effectively constraining government support to fossil fuels. 

Building on recent research in this area, this session brought together perspectives from academia, civil society, government, and intergovernmental organizations. It was articulated around the following questions: Can WTO rules be used, or reformed, to address fossil fuel subsidies more effectively? On what existing types of data could possible discussions on new disciplines rely, and how can potential data gaps be filled in? Are there efforts underway to ensure subsidy rules, including at the WTO, are aligned with the need to transition to cleaner energy systems?

Confirmed Speakers: 

  • Alice Tipping, Lead, Fisheries Subsidies, IISD (moderator)
  • Harro van Asselt, Professor of Climate Law and Policy, University of Eastern Finland
  • Ronald P. Steenblik, Senior Fellow, International Institute for Sustainable Development
  • Joy Aeree Kim, Senior Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • Sara Meymand, Unit Manager, Trade Negotiations Division, and Chief Negotiator for Agreement on Climate Change, Trade, and Sustainability (ACCTS), New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Date and Time: Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 9 a.m. CEST

Organizers: University of Eastern Finland and IISD