Sustainability impact assessments must be included in the UK’s Trade Bill, SSRP researcher recommends

A University of Sussex expert is urging policy makers to include sustainability impact assessments in the UK’s trade bill.

The UK is at a critical moment in defining free trade agreements for a post-Brexit Britain.

This week the House of Lords amended the Trade Bill to include Sustainability Impact Assessments (SIAs) and to state how the proposed trade agreement will advance the meeting of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The House of Commons will now debate on whether to accept this amendment.

Based on her research into sustainable trade post-Brexit, Dr Emily Lydgate, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law and Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) researcher has written a policy brief to be shared with Parliamentarians to help inform their discussion.

In this briefing, Dr Lydgate advises that policy coherence between trade and sustainable development is required to ensure that trade agreements do not undermine environmental and social justice objectives.

In 2015 the UK committed to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 alongside all other United Nations member states. Through Dr Lydgate’s SSRP research project called, ‘Achieving sustainable trade post-Brexit: the UK and beyond’, she found that multiple SDGs could be achieved by enshrining sustainability in to trade agreements.

One way in which to do this is through Sustainability Impact Assessments (SIAs). These assessments identify the potential environmental, economic and social impacts of free trade agreements (FTAs). This process would enable progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) more efficiently without the prioritisation of one goal, such as economic growth, over and above others, such as reduced inequalities and climate action.

Dr Emily Lydgate says, “The UK Government has committed to environmental assessment as part of its upcoming trade negotiations. Whilst this is welcome, it would be useful to have more clarity about its approach to assessment and in particular how it will help UK FTAs support the SDGs. The Lord's proposed amendment achieves this by making consideration of the SDGs in FTAs mandatory.”

Key recommendations outlined in the policy brief include procuring independent consultants to conduct the analysis of the environmental, economic and social impacts of the proposed trade agreements based on the country’s own national and international development priorities. A further recommendation states that there should be opportunities for the wider public to feed into the process.

Alongside these recommendations, Dr Lydgate also sets out Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) in current practice, the SIA process, as well as the justification and limitations to SIA.

With the deadline for negotiating trade deals with the EU (31 December 2020) fast approaching, it is a crucial moment to ensure more efficient measures towards meeting multiple objectives at once without diminishing the urgency of others.


Policy brief citation

Lydgate, E. and Amos, R. (2020) Trade and Sustainability: assessing the sustainability impact of trade agreements, Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP), University of Sussex and Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK.

More information

Read the policy brief: ‘Assessing sustainability impacts in trade agreements’.

Find out more about the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) and Emily Lydgate’s SSRP research project: ‘Achieving sustainable trade post-Brexit: the UK and beyond’.

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By: Amy Sweet
Last updated: Friday, 11 December 2020

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