The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets in 2015 with the aim of helping member countries realise sustainable development by striking a balance between the economy, society and the environment. The UN SDGs present a challenge particularly for developing countries in realising all these goals and targets.
A recent research project conducted by National Institute of Development Administration found that the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) member countries – consisting of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, and China (Yunnan province and the autonomous region Guangxi) – have experienced a relatively high growth rate due mainly to trade liberalisation and facilitation. However, the remaining question is how to link trade liberalisation with sustainable development.
It is argued that international trade – consisting of trade in goods, services, and international movement of production factors – is vital to the realisation of development goals in the GMS countries. This is particularly true for the economic goals, including Goal 1 (ending poverty in all its forms everywhere); Goal 2 (ending hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture); Goal 8 (inclusive and sustainable economic growth and full employment); Goal 9 (building resilient infrastructure, promote industrialisation, and foster innovation). Furthermore, trade also has an impact on the realisation of development goals in the social dimension, such as Goal 5 (achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls).
However, owing to the nature of international trade that operates through the market mechanism, creating winners and losers in international trade does not necessarily lead to the realisation of the social aspects of the UN SDGs.
Therefore, to enable GMS member countries to realise the sustainable development goals through trade liberalisation, there is a need to restructure the international trading system so that it better serves the UN SDGs.
International Institute for Trade and Development, Thailand.