Toward More Equitable and Sustainable Trade in Food and Agriculture

IISD’s work on trade in food and farm goods seeks to improve the extent to which trade policy supports sustainable development outcomes and expand the space for informed discussion among a wider set of policy actors.

In 2015, world leaders at the United Nations agreed to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030 as part of a commitment to achieving food security and promoting sustainable agriculture that was included among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, despite progress in tackling undernourishment in recent decades, the last few years have seen an uptick in the numbers of hungry people. This backward slide can primarily be attributed to climate change, conflict, persistent poverty and inequality, and—most recently—the COVID-19 pandemic.

While governments will need to take a holistic approach to improving outcomes in this area, better policies on trade also need to be part of the solution to the challenges facing today’s global food system. However, trade policy-making too often takes place in isolation from consideration of broader public policy goals—including those on food security and environmental sustainability.

IISD’s work in this area seeks to 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. Working with partners such as the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), it also seeks to generate policy-relevant research and analysis on food and agricultural trade issues, focusing especially on issues of importance to low-income countries and vulnerable groups.

With farm trade rules at the World Trade Organization (WTO) last updated 25 years ago, one focus of IISD’s work is on how disciplines on agriculture could better support more equitable and sustainable outcomes. Similarly, IISD is also looking at the role of regional and national policy frameworks that affect trade in food and farm goods, and how these can better address current and future challenges.