Fair and Sustainable Trade in Food and Agriculture

IISD conducts research and facilitates dialogue to help bring about trade rules that promote equitable and sustainable international trade in food and agricultural products.

The rules that govern international trade in food and agricultural products influence what is grown, where, and how. This has implications for livelihoods and food security in developing countries and for the environmental sustainability of our food systems. However, negotiations on international trade rules too often take place in isolation from these broader public policy considerations.

We produce evidence and analysis to increase understanding of the links between agricultural trade rules and key sustainable development challenges facing low-income countries and vulnerable groups. We also provide a space for informed discussion among a wider set of actors—including those who have not traditionally been involved in talks on trade and markets. 

Our work on this topic focuses on three main areas: influencing World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, promoting the reform and repurposing of harmful agricultural subsidies, and analyzing how voluntary sustainability standards can help make value chains more sustainable.

WTO Agriculture Negotiations

We aim to influence WTO negotiations to help bring about multilateral trade rules that promote equitable and sustainable international trade in food and agricultural products and support a more resilient and sustainable global food system. We do this by producing evidence and analysis, facilitating dialogue with WTO negotiators on how to design WTO rules that drive sustainable development, and supporting delegations from low-income countries to engage effectively in the negotiations.  

Repurposing Agricultural Subsidies

Globally, governments provide over USD 850 billion a year in support to their agriculture sectors. Much of this support incentivizes unsustainable production and consumption patterns. It incentivizes farming practices that drive climate change, environmental damage, and biodiversity loss, threatening the sustainability of our food systems. It also promotes the consumption of unhealthy foods, driving worsening global nutrition and increasing obesity rates. We aim to help governments rethink how they support and subsidize agriculture, with a view to ensuring such support contributes to sustainable development objectives rather than undermining them.

Standards and Value Chains

Our State of Sustainability Initiatives program looks at the role that voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) and associated initiatives can play in supporting more sustainable forms of production, consumption, and trade. Our work seeks to improve the design and practices of standards, increase synergies between standards and policy, and enhance transparency and accountability in value chains.