Must Do Better Trade & Industrial Policy and the SDGs The 30th Global Trade Alert Report by Simon J. Evenett and Johannes Fritz

Trade policy in the 21st century is expected to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, there are concerns regarding the tension between neoliberal trade reforms and progress on poverty eradication, hunger reduction, and clean energy adoption, among other SDGs. The lack of comprehensive tracking of government interventions in trade policy hinders global assessments of the impact of tariff and non-tariff changes on the SDGs.This report aims to fill the evidence gap by examining the contribution of commercial policy choices to seven of the 17 SDGs: SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, and 14. It analyzes 37,529 unilateral commercial policy interventions by 192 governments and their impact on 61 SDG indicators. Since the initiation of Agenda 2030 in 2016, these policy changes have influenced the selected SDGs. Approximately 45% of the interventions improved SDG outcomes, 27% worsened matters, and 28% had no effect.Comparing the pre-2016 period, the positive impact of commercial policy changes on the SDGs has decreased. Although the number of interventions affecting the SDGs has increased by 10%, the overall number of policy interventions has risen by 32%. Notably, the lowest-income group of nations demonstrated the greatest improvement, while middle-income nations showed minimal progress.The COVID-19 pandemic did not significantly alter the contribution of commercial policies to the SDGs. In fact, the share of interventions likely to improve SDG metrics slightly increased from 0.44 to 0.46. Some SDG indicators may benefit from trade-distorting practices and barriers in the short run, suggesting a potential tension between liberal trade policies and sustainable development.Among the SDGs analyzed, SDG 9 exhibited the greatest tension, as over 90% of commercial policy changes improving metrics in this area also distorted trade or reversed trade reforms. However, there is room for liberalizing commercial policies to contribute more to the SDGs, except for SDG 9. Reinstating lapsed trade reforms or phasing out trade-distorting practices could improve SDG metrics, but more substantial actions are necessary.If governments collectively unwind market-distorting trade practices implemented since Agenda 2030, over 55% of the remaining commercial policy interventions in SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7 could contribute to sustainable development. However, this approach would negatively impact SDG 9, necessitating a discussion on alternative policies to promote private sector development.

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