Anchoring Sustainability: Maritime Trade Regulations and Practices

Anchoring Sustainability: Maritime Trade Regulations and Practices

By Ashok Raman, 04 November 2023

Previously: Environmental Impacts of Trade

Regulations and policies that prioritize sustainable trade typically involve measures such as monitoring and mitigating carbon emissions, promoting best practices, using renewable energy sources, and ensuring fair labour practices. 

How is “Sustainable Trade practices” mitigating the impacts on the maritime and wider ecosystems as a whole?

Trade has been identified as an important means to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes “international trade as an engine for inclusive growth and poverty reduction.” 

The SDG indicators linked to trade include SDG targets 17.10, 17.11 and 17.12. 

Target 17.10 – Promote a universal, rules-based, open, nondiscriminatory, and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization, including through the conclusion of negotiations under its Doha Development Agenda. 

Target 17.11 – Significantly increase the exports of developing countries, in particular with a view to doubling the least developed countries’ share of global exports by 2020. 

Target 17.12 – Realize timely implementation of duty-free and quota-free market access on a lasting basis for all least developed countries, consistent with World Trade Organization decisions, including by ensuring that preferential rules of origin applicable to imports from least developed countries are transparent and simple, and contribute to facilitating market access.

However, the true value of trade is interwoven into the SDGs with explicit targets across multiple indicators which address food security, health, work conditions, economic growth opportunities, gender equality, reduced inequalities, responsible consumption, and production in a sustainable manner as well as preserving marine life and ecosystems. 

The UN Council for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is one agency that contributes towards the formulation and implementation of national trade policy regimes according to a country's own development priorities and needs. One of the key areas that UNCTAD focuses on is fair trade practices which focuses on smaller stakeholders such as farmers. 

World Trade Organisation is also focused on sustainability and members are taking part in Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD) which is split into four informal working groups covering climate measures, subsidies, environmental goods and services, and the circular economy. The TESSD initiative, launched in November 2020, is currently co-sponsored by 74 members representing all regions and all levels of development. 

Infobyte: Four Informal Working Groups of TESSD

There are multiple other agencies which are active in pushing the sustainability agenda including International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO).  


ILO (International Labour Organization)

The ILO aims to set labour standards, promote decent work, and address social sustainability in international trade by developing and implementing standards, guidelines, and programs related to workers' rights, fair employment practices, and social protection. 

IMO (International Maritime Organization)

The IMO plays a crucial role in addressing sustainability in the maritime industry and has adopted regulations and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote energy efficiency, and address environmental impacts associated with shipping.  


There is also the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), which is the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world, mobilizing businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies and practices. The larger role the organization plays is in providing a framework and principles for businesses to align their operations with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption. In the context of trade, UNGC encourages companies to integrate sustainability considerations into their supply chain and trade-related activities. The UNGC promotes sustainable trade by encouraging companies to respect human rights, ensure fair labour practices, protect the environment, and combat corruption.

Infobyte: Ten Principles of UNGC


To read more about the power of sustainable trade in the race to net zero – read the full report here


This article was originally published on Lucidity Insights, a partner of Entrepreneur Middle East in developing special reports on the Middle East and Africa’s tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Related Report

Sustainable International Trade for a Resilient Future

With many countries committing to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, there is a race against the clock to upgrade the world’s energy and trade infrastructure to achieve this. In this report, we highlight strategies used by trade stakeholders worldwide to foster a sustainable future, focusing on decarbonization, energy and food security, and environmental impact mitigation.

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