Project Workshop on “Making Agricultural Trade Sustainable” – 16th May 2023, 9:00 CET-12:00 CET

Project Workshop on “Making Agricultural Trade Sustainable” – 16th May 2023, 9:00 CET-12:00 CET

Time: 16th May 2023 at 9.00-12.00 CET

Place: Maastricht University campus, Brussels, Tervurenlaan 153, 1150 Sint-Pieters-Woluwe, Belgium

Format: Hybrid – in-person & virtual

Are you a professional or researcher in the field of agricultural trade? Do you believe the agricultural trade system needs a rethink? Do the challenges ahead in the fields of social, environmental, or economic sustainability keep you busy? Join us in this workshop where we will, collectively with experts in the field, reflect on the future of our agricultural trade system.

The EU-funded MATS project identifies key leverage points for changes in agricultural trade policy that foster the positive and reduce the negative impacts of trade on sustainable development and human rights – at local, national, and global level – concentrating particularly on EU-Africa trade relations. The project consists of eight working packages and 15 case studies providing information about interactions between agricultural markets, trade and trade policy, investments, environmental sustainability, and human well-being. Our research is based on multi-method analyses, containing customized system dynamics models, computable general equilibrium models, and in-depth assessment of the environmental and social costs and benefits of agri-food value chains and trade.

The workshop intends to enable the exchange of views and provide an opportunity to contribute to further MATS work. The workshop is open for all agri-food trade practitioners, NGOs, researchers, and policymakers who want to hear from and provide input to making agricultural trade more sustainable in environmental, economic, and social terms, and to help us identify the investment-related aspects of sustainable agricultural trade. The workshop consists of three thematic presentations by external experts. Each presentation is followed by a 20-minute discussion, the first half of which is taken up by an invited discussant, and the remaining 10 minutes being reserved for open, general discussion. The seminar will be recorded and made available on the webpage of the MATS project.

The recording of the workshop is available below:

Αgenda 9:00-12:00 CET

9:00-9:15Opening words and MATS introduction by Prof. Bodo Steiner (Coordinator of MATS & University of Helsinki) & Jonathan Matthysen (OXFAM)
9:15-9:25Keynote Dr. Leonard Mizzi (DG INTPA), Head of Sustainable Agri-Food systems and Fisheries Unit (European Commission)
9:25-9:35Q&A moderated by Prof. Bodo Steiner (University of Helsinki)
9:35-9:55Radika Kumar, Adviser, Infrastructure Policy at the Trade Oceans and Natural Resources Directorate at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London – The Impact of Trade (in particular Agriculture Trade) on the Social Pillar
9:55-10:15Discussion, moderated by Jonathan Matthysen (OXFAM)
Discussant: Virginia Enssle, Project and Policy officer, Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO)
10:15-10:35Coffee Break
10:35-10:50Marianne Kettunen, GCRF Trade, Development, and the Environment Hub (TRADE Hub) – Environmental perspective on sustainable agricultural trade
10:50-11:10Discussion moderated by Mari Carlson (University of Helsinki)
Discussant: Shefali Sharma, Director, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
11:10-11:25Facundo Calvo, Agricultural Policy Analyst at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) – Multilateral perspectives on sustainable agricultural trade. How can the WTO contribute to move forward this agenda/at MC13?
11:25-11:45Discussion, moderated by Prof. Bodo Steiner (University of Helsinki)
Discussant: Frédéric Lançon, Scientific Director, Value Chain Analysis for Development, VCA4D
11:45-12:00Wrap up and closing, Prof. Bodo Steiner (University of Helsinki)

February 2023 report on the progress of Ukrainian grains exports to Africa

February 2023 report on the progress of Ukrainian grains exports to Africa

Τhe February report on the outcome of the project “Repairing Broken Food Trade Routes Ukraine – Africa”.

Ιt covers:

– Impact of war on fertiliser prices. Overview of the last 12 months

– Sunflower oil market impact by 12 months of the invasion

– Stolen lands, stolen grains. Losses than Russia inflicted on Ukraine since 2014 in context of global food security

Read more here

Geneva winds of trade – A vision for nature-positive trade at the WTO

Geneva winds of trade – A vision for nature-positive trade at the WTO

Mari Carlson | March 16, 2023

An informal roundtable on Nature-positive Trade for Sustainable Development took place on 14 March in Geneva, organized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). While the discussion touched upon the various breaches of environmental sustainability and linkages to trade, biodiversity was in the spotlight today (see in particular Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) adopted in December 2022).

For those who are less familiar with the environmental sustainability and trade policy work at the WTO, biodiversity has not paved its way in those discussions yet. The CBD has requested for an observer status in different committees at the WTO but so far it has not been a story of success. It is noteworthy therefore that, Mr. Aik Hoe Lim, the Director of the Trade and Environment Division at the WTO, opened the roundtable by acknowledging his gratitude that WTO Members are welcoming the discussion about nature-positive trade nowadays at the WTO. Even I could say that today felt like a small victory for the biodiversity in its race towards the semi-finals of the “most pressing (sustainability) issues in trade policy discussions at the WTO”. However, remember here (emphasis added), environmental sustainability topics such as climate, plastics pollution, biodiversity, circular economy, and so on, should not be seen as rivals. They are mutually supportive and each one is needed to prevent the environmental crisis from getting completely out of hands.

In the roundtable, Mrs. Marianne Kettunen, who is a senior policy expert and advisor on sustainable development and the environment currently working for the Trade, Development, and the Environment Hub (Trade Hub) introduced findings of a new report offering a vision for mutually supportive framework for trade and biodiversity. The report, appraised by the experts to be ready-for-implementation, presents a more holistic view on nature and biodiversity in the trade and environmental sustainability work at the WTO. The report bridges the gaps and shows that trade policies and the existing work at the WTO can, directly and indirectly, be supportive for the implementation of the global biodiversity framework. In her intervention, Mrs. Kettunen underlined that there is no need to establish new processes at the WTO but to bring biodiversity more holistically in the existing work such as the informal working groups within the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD) or in the Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Trade (IDP). There are also many other working groups and streams which are linked to biodiversity such as agriculture and agricultural subsidies, fisheries subsidies, or fossil fuel subsidies to name a few. There are also different (voluntary) sustainability standards related to trade (but outside the WTO) aiming at supporting the environment, but the abundance might sometimes actually be – a trade barrier. So, more streamlining and cooperation is needed.

Yet agriculture was mentioned in almost every intervention and is a part of the report too, Ms. Rebecca Barton, Counsellor in the Permanent Mission of Australia to the WTO, focused solely on speaking about the role of agricultural trade policies in enabling (or perhaps currently impeding) nature-positive trade. She reminded that agricultural negotiations handle many critical issues such as food security in addition to other perspectives. She raised questions such as how to solve these critical issues while contributing to nature-related goals or how to solve the issues related to agricultural subsidies which tend to distort markets or are in many cases harmful for the environment. Regarding agricultural subsidies, a comment from the audience suggested that the trade community should make an exercise to identify between really environmentally harmful agricultural subsidies and those that actually contribute to nature-positive outcomes. Lastly, Ms. Barton noted that environment in mentioned in the preamble of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture as a non-trade issue, which perhaps is totally outdated. And actually, I have heard some discussion here in Geneva, that some folks would be viewing the WTO Agreement on Agriculture with “green lenses”. 

In addition to the subsidy, discussion was brought by Mrs. Diane Holdorf, Executive Vice President for the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, who also included energy subsidies and the mining sector as important topics in the nature-positive trade related discussions. Bringing in the business perspective, Mrs. Holdorf called for clarity and granularity in the trade rules supporting nature-positive trade as private sector companies are making efforts to advance green transition, but many times trade rules are vague and do not guide companies to the right direction. She also noted that funding and investments are the key, and one should figure out how to structure the financial flows to truly support the green transition. The importance of linking investments with changes in trade policies received support and it is clear that investments and finance are needed to induce the changes that “green” trade policies intend to push forward. (This is by the way, what our MATS project aims to do in the context of agricultural trade policies.) Lastly, Mrs. Holdorf underlined the importance of multistakeholder processes as policy making needs those who implement the changes: “we need farmers, processors, retailers, civil society, and so on” – enabling environment is a key for businesses to change things for better. She well concluded her intervention that breaking the silos within, between, and across the organizations is the key.

The roundtable was concluded by Mr. Lim who made a very important point regarding the differences between environmental policy making and trade policy making. Trade policy continues to be steered by political reasoning whereas environmental policy is evidence-based, and the international (trade and environment) community should clarify to what extent these different starting points are true for both. If there is no willingness to do that, it will be really difficult to bridge the gap between environmental and trade policy work.

It is clear that the WTO rulebook needs an update and, while some topics are progressing, there is yet vast amount of work to be done to get all WTO members on the same page. Understandably, it is hard to turn the tide when originally at the WTO environmental sustainability has been treated as a non-trade issue, and the discussions have been marginal in the Committee on Trade and Environment with no substantial progress in the rules making. However, recent years have confirmed that this cannot be the case, at least for many countries. Silo-based thinking has to be broken and trade policy makers and environmental policy makers should find a way to cooperate and understand each other. Wider stakeholder involvement, both in Geneva and at national capitals, in a necessity to craft trade rules in a meaningful and feasible way. Finally, we need a connection between the trade policy induced changes and the finance and investment flows. Now we only must start ploughing, sowing, and hopefully harvesting in line with the SDGs, wishing for a stable climate and a healthy environment for the seeds to grow.

Mari Carlson is the co-coordinator for the MATS project. She is also a doctoral researcher in the doctoral programme in Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Helsinki. Her research combines trade policy, environmental sustainability, and agriculture.

Brown Bag Seminar “Sustainable Development: Is WTO Part of the Problem?”

Brown Bag Seminar “Sustainable Development: Is WTO Part of the Problem?”

Christian Häberli, WTI Fellow and MATS legal advisor, will speak at the World Trade Institute: are the WTO and the multilateral trading system sustainable?

A lot of criticism continues to abound even after the self-claimed success of MC13. There are the obvious grievances about the lack of dispute settlement and the lack of real negotiations. Businesses and NGOs point out the shortcomings in their fields of interest. Arthur Appleton and & Patrick Macrory find problems just about everywhere and make suggestions on how to fix them (2022, Kluwer Law International BV). Other scholars (Aaronson, Baldwin, Evenett, Howse, Mavroidis, Orden et al) argue that WTO has become part of the problem. Not only because of the stalled agriculture and other negotiations, or the incompatibility of the present WTO non-discrimination rules with the Climate Agreement “differentiation” obligation. The pandemic, the energy crisis, and other wars failed to move the debate in Geneva forward for even one inch.

Basically, there seems to be a consensus – outside of WTO – that the multilateral trading system is not sustainable. This raises the question whether Trade Ministry representatives masterminding all WTO proceedings are unable or unwilling to review the present rules? Could scholars or adjudicators find compelling reasons to consider non-international economic law in their assessment of a claim of non-sustainability?

My article will focus on agricultural trade (Working Title: “Agricultural Trade Rules – Where are you?”), but this lecture starts with a lot of context outside agriculture. Yet it will not join the blame game. I only propose to accept the present shortcomings in international trade and investment governance as a leverage for reforms negotiated by those who matter: WTO Member governments, and parliaments.

CSD on EU-Africa trade and investment relations – 17th of March 2023

CSD on EU-Africa trade and investment relations – 17th of March 2023

The aim of this meeting is to discuss with EU civil society the latest developments in EU-Africa trade and investment relations and exchange views on EU trade and investment policy in Africa.  The Trade Policy Review Communication published by the European Commission in February 2021 confirmed the importance of Africa in the EU’s trade policy. It proposed to enhance further sustainable trade and investment links, both between the EU and Africa and in Africa itself, while also strengthening existing regional integration processes. The link to the online event, as well as further details, are available here


  • African, Caribbean, and Pacific, Overseas Countries and Territories Unit Directorate-General for Trade, European Commission.


Civil Society Coordination – Transparency, Civil society, and Communication Unit, Directorate-General for Trade.


  1. Updates on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)/Associations Agreements (AAs) (trade pillar)
  2. Latest developments in EU-Africa trade and investment relations
  3. Open discussion with stakeholders

Related documents

EU-Angola Sustainable Investment Facilitation Agreement

Making agri-food trade more environmentally sustainable, or sustaining the policy fog by making more trade-relevant policies? A note on F2F, Green Deal, ETS, and CBAM

Making agri-food trade more environmentally sustainable, or sustaining the policy fog by making more trade-relevant policies? A note on F2F, Green Deal, ETS, and CBAM

Mari Carlson & Bodo Steiner | January 25, 2023

Green Deal and F2F strategy are clear about the EU’s willingness to promote sustainable agri-food sector globally through its external policies, including international cooperation and trade policy. The work is ambiguously based on cooperation with partners and in different international foras, but it has a strong autonomous perspective – better known as open strategic autonomy, also visible in the EU’s trade policy strategy. Both Green Deal and F2F make strong references to restricting market access for goods that are not produced according to EU’s environmental (or other) standards. It also points out a need to avoid outsourcing of unsustainable practices to third countries and to restrict importing such products into the EU market. Despite this is nothing new that the EU is requiring countries to comply with some of its relevant agri-food standards, this time the tone is more severe.

The first concrete autonomous measure linked to environmental sustainability in agri-food trade was the mandatory due diligence on deforestation free supply chains, which I wrote here last time. Since environmental sustainability is only one side of the coin, you should also check the one on social sustainability, hence forced labour. It is no wonder why some of the EU’s trading partners are a bit concerned. Such new measures are intending to regulate the way products are produced meaning that to gain access to the EU market, products must be produced according to the EU regulation. This is not an easy task particularly for developing country trade partners. It also certainly raises questions what is yet to come? Maybe an obligatory environmental footprint scheme? A carbon border adjustment measure on selected agri-food products?

If you try to make sense of what Green Deal says about sustainable agri-food trade, you will end up reading the Farm-to-Fork Strategy. While reading that, you realize that you need to consider a myriad of other strategies and sectoral policies from the Common Agricultural Policy to biodiversity, climate law, circular economy, forestry, carbon markets, transportation, competition rules, trade policy, and a comprehensive list of others. These will all be affected by the Green Deal, and they will, in one way or another influence EU’s international agri-food trade. However, it is impossible to say in just a few sentences what environmentally sustainable agri-food trade is, according to the EU. It includes all the stages in the value chain, not just farming and processing, which explains the necessary interdisciplinary view needed to understand ‘environmentally sustainable agri-food trade’. Another thing is to make agricultural production itself environmentally sustainable, so how much trade policy can do? At least agri-food value chains have typically become more global, which increases the role of trade policies in regulating traded goods and increases the need for government policies that focus on facilitating participation in global value chains, so as to facilitate added value creation.  

Yet unlikely implemented any time soon, discussion exists about extending carbon pricing to agricultural sector (e.g. here, and here), mostly concluding its infeasibility, inefficiency, and a high risk of carbon leakage without carbon border measures. Note also that agricultural emissions are not only carbon emissions; 31 per cent of human-caused GHG emissions, originate from the world’s agri-food systems, and the FAO calculated that cattle generate up to two-thirds of the greenhouse gases from livestock, and are the world’s fifth largest source of methane. However, New Zealand has recently published a plan for pricing its emissions on agricultural sector which will showcase other countries how such a mechanism would work. It is to be seen, how New Zealand copes with the carbon leakage. And so, why was I raising this issue of carbon border measures before? While F2F makes no references in adopting such measures for agriculture, the Green Deal put forward the Carbon Border Adjustment Measure (CBAM) for some industrial goods. Before its publication and even after, some concerns among the agri-food sector were heard whether the product coverage could be extended to agri-food products. In its current form this is not the case, and we only find indirect linkages to agricultural sector through some inputs such as certain fertilizers, which are subject to the mechanism. This of course includes the potential for price increases and in some cases concerns regarding availability of fertilizers in the EU market, but again, it does not directly target agri-food trade. The CBAM is actually linked to the revision of the EU ETS as a mechanism to gradually replace the free allowances system, to prevent ETS induced carbon leakage for those sectors already subject to the EU ETS. There is lots of misunderstanding and misinterpretation available on the CBAM but building the link through the ETS free allowances hopefully makes its purpose clearer.

Lastly, I would like to consider one more initiative meaningful for making agri-food trade more environmentally sustainable, which is perhaps not talked about enough. Probably one of the largest packages in the Green Deal is the revision of the EU’s Emissions Trading System. This reform will have far-reaching impacts on many value chains and their trade through transportation. This is because the ETS 1) is strengthened in the aviation sector, 2) will be extended to shipping sector, and 3) an own ETS is to be established to cover emissions from fuels used in buildings and road transport. This will inevitably increase transportation costs within, into and from the EU market. We hope for a quick green transition in the transportation sector – otherwise we might end up having unsustainable agri-food trade at least in economic terms. But is hope enough in the face of increasing trade-relevant policy-fog?

Mari Carlson is the co-coordinator for the MATS project. She is also a doctoral researcher in the doctoral programme in Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Helsinki. Her research combines trade policy, environmental sustainability, and agriculture.

Bodo Steiner is the coordinator for the MATS project. He is professor of Food Economics & Business Management, head of the research group Management & Organizations For Sustainable Food Systems, deputy director at the Department of Economics and Management, University of Helsinki. See his comprehensive list of publications, projects, activities, and much more here.

Deforestation – a new agenda for more sustainable global agri-food systems in 2023?

Deforestation – a new agenda for more sustainable global agri-food systems in 2023?

Mari Carlson | January 4, 2023

The first report to read in 2023 is perhaps the United Nations Global Land Use Outlook. It provides a comprehensive picture of the state of land – soil, water, and biodiversity. It has many important messages that we typically neglect from one year to another. One of them is that modern farming with intensive monoculture, deforestation, and other ecosystems uses for agricultural purposes generate the most of carbon emissions associated with land use change. The IPCC estimates that food systems in their entirety (including agriculture and land use, storage, transport, packaging, processing, retail, and consumption) are responsible for 21-37 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions globally. Thus, sustainable food systems are important to the success of the global climate agenda. This is exactly what our MATS project is interested in: searching for ways to enhance sustainable food systems as part of policy solutions that make agricultural trade more sustainable.

So, how do forests have anything to do with sustainable global food systems? One of the most pressing issues regarding food systems is deforestation, which means conversion of forest to other land uses, such as agriculture and infrastructure. FAO’s recent Remote Sensing Survey reveals that agricultural expansion is driving almost 90 percent of global deforestation of which around 50 percent is due to conversion of forests into cropland. Livestock grazing accounts for around 40 percent whereas urban infrastructure and other uses around 10 percent. Although the FAO survey confirms a slowdown in deforestation, tropical forests remain under pressure, particularly in Africa and in Latin-America. There is no need to be an expert to understand that these areas will be impacted most when deforestation “becomes a problem”.

Yet although the majority of deforestation-associated goods (e.g. palm oil, wood, cocoa, coffee, soy, beef) are consumed at a local or regional level, there is evidence that international trade in these goods accelerates deforestation. According to WWF’s report, the biggest importers of deforestation were China (24%), EU (16%), India (9%), the United States (7%) and Japan (5%). The European Commission has estimated that its consumption is responsible for 10 percent of global deforestation. If we then look at the portion of deforestation-linked goods traded internationally, the EU’s share is 36%, being considerably higher than the WWF’s estimate.

The EU has taken these numbers seriously. In line with the EU’s Communication on World Forests and Green Deal, at the end of 2021, the European Commission proposed a Regulation on deforestation free supply chains. Already at the end of 2022 a provisional political agreement was reached between the EU institutions. Once the Regulation is formally adopted and in force, operators and traders will have 18 months transition period to implement the new rules.

The end of the 2022 was a wake-up call for all those who considered the Regulation to be only about forests. It is very little about forests and mostly about agriculture, because in a nutshell, the EU’s deforestation regulation means that companies placing palm oil, cattle, soy, coffee, cocoa, timber, and rubber, as well as derived products (such as beef, furniture, or chocolate) on or exporting from the EU market, must comply with strict due diligence obligations. For example, operators and traders must prove that the products are produced on land that was not subject to deforestation after 31 December 2020. This includes an obligation to collect precise geographical information on the farmland where the commodities were grown. Goods must also be legally produced meaning that they comply with all relevant applicable laws in force in the country of production.

Regarding international trade rules (particularly WTO rules) and reaction from third countries, the Commission has assured that this measure will comply with all international obligations, and that the EU will cooperate with the affected countries. It will be interesting to follow how the EU’s benchmarking system that assess countries and their level of risk of deforestation and forest degradation (a high, standard, or low risk) will be evaluated by trading partners, and eventually in the light of the WTO legal framework. Already now, some countries deem the EU’s actions with a critical tone. Either way, the Commission’s Regulation on deforestation-free supply chains will shape the agenda of businesses and policymakers alike in their quest to make sustainable global food systems more sustainable in 2023.

The corresponding writer is the co-coordinator for the Making Agricultural Trade Sustainable project. She is also a doctoral researcher in the doctoral programme in Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Helsinki. Her research combines trade policy, environmental sustainability, and agriculture. Before joining the MATS team, she worked as a commercial secretary on trade and environment in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

DISCUSSION BRIEFS 6/2022 – Synthesis of model-based studies: A discussion on computational models applied in agricultural trade-related work

DISCUSSION BRIEFS 6/2022 – Synthesis of model-based studies: A discussion on computational models applied in agricultural trade-related work

The discussion brief (available here) presents computational models used in previously published agricultural trade-related academic journal articles. The study analyses the results of models that were used to assess the relation between trade and sustainability (environmental, social, and economic dimensions). A detailed description of the models and information about their characteristics, goal, type, regional coverage, time frame, and applications can be found in MATS project DEL2.2.