Sussex Sustainability Research Programme

Achieving sustainable trade post-Brexit: the UK and beyond

Promoting sustainability in the UK’s post-Brexit trade policy and devising methodologies for sustainability assessments of trade agreements.



The team

Principal Investigator (PI) and Co PI details

Principal Investigator


Project team

External partner

Where we worked

The project was conducted at the University of Sussex.


This project explores how principles of sustainability can be enshrined in trade agreements, focusing primarily on the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU and other partners. Foregrounding sustainability as a goal of UK trade policy will help to ensure the continuation of relatively high environmental and social protections, and promote them in our trading partners. The research contributes to the SSRP’s goal of developing cross-cutting pathways to sustainable development.

Full project description

Trade agreements comprise an important source of foreign policy influence and also shape the rules and regulation that domestic companies must follow. Ensuring that such agreements do not undermine social welfare and environmental policy goals is thus essential to creating policy coherence and implementing sustainable development. The UK’s departure from the EU provides an opportunity to identify and advocate approaches for integrating SDGs into trade policy in the UK and beyond. In this context, the project comprises of two strands.

The first strand focusses on sustainability impact assessment (SIA), the process through which the potential environmental, economic and social impacts of free trade agreements are identified. We modelled the SIA process – its major stages, who is involved in them and how they feed into the rest of the process. Work focused in particular on the role of public participation in SIA procedures. Identifying appropriate opportunities for meaningful public participation before and during the negotiation of new trade agreements will help to inform the negotiations and legitimise any decisions that are taken.

The second strand examined limits, opportunities and coherence issues that arise in utilising trade agreements to pursue environmental and social welfare goals. Taking the EU as a starting point, but also examining major economies such as the US, this research took stock of existing FTA models and best practices.

Listen to Principal Investigator, Dr Emily Lydgate, outline this SSRP project and how it converges with her research interests in the complexities around regulating for sustainability.

Timeline and funding

The project began in January 2018 and was funded until December 2018 with £51,234.

Related work

Useful links