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Trade policies for a circular economy: What can we learn from WTO experience?


  • Steinfatt, Karsten


From its initial focus on minimizing waste generation, the circular economy has evolved into a broad-based approach to make resource use more sustainable. A big part of the appeal of a circular economy is the opportunities it creates not only for resource savings and better human health and environmental outcomes, but also for trade and economic diversification. As interest in circular economy approaches grows, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that trade policies are designed and implemented with the goals of a circular economy in mind. Doing so would bolster the role of trade in scaling up circular economy solutions worldwide. This paper reviews work at the WTO related to the circular economy. It shows how WTO members have addressed issues related to the circular economy through policy dialogue, peer review, negotiations and more recently, Aid for Trade. Experience in these four areas provides valuable insights into how WTO members can expand the positive contribution of trade to a circular economy, not least by: (i) improving their collective understanding of how trade interacts with the circular economy; (ii) building trust and confidence to engage in mutually beneficial activities related to circular economy; (iii) opening and facilitating trade in key areas of the circular economy; and (iv) supporting efforts in developing countries to seize the potential environmental, economic and social benefits of a circular economy through enhanced trade.

Suggested Citation

  • Steinfatt, Karsten, 2020. "Trade policies for a circular economy: What can we learn from WTO experience?," WTO Staff Working Papers ERSD-2020-10, World Trade Organization (WTO), Economic Research and Statistics Division.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:wtowps:ersd202010

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lim, Aik Hoe & Mathur, Sajal & Suk, Gowoon, 2020. "Trade and environment: What can we learn from trade policy reviews?," WTO Staff Working Papers ERSD-2020-06, World Trade Organization (WTO), Economic Research and Statistics Division.
    2. Patrick Schroeder & Kartika Anggraeni & Uwe Weber, 2019. "The Relevance of Circular Economy Practices to the Sustainable Development Goals," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 23(1), pages 77-95, February.
    3. Jane Korinek, 2019. "Trade restrictions on minerals and metals," Mineral Economics, Springer;Raw Materials Group (RMG);Luleå University of Technology, vol. 32(2), pages 171-185, July.
    4. Shunta Yamaguchi, 2018. "International Trade and the Transition to a More Resource Efficient and Circular Economy: A Concept Paper," OECD Trade and Environment Working Papers 2018/03, OECD Publishing.
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    Cited by:

    1. -, 2021. "United States-Latin America and the Caribbean Trade Developments 2021," Oficina de la CEPAL en Washington (Estudios e Investigaciones) 47530, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL).
    2. Jack Barrie & Patrick Schröder, 2022. "Circular Economy and International Trade: a Systematic Literature Review," Circular Economy and Sustainability,, Springer.

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    More about this item


    international trade; circular economy; resource efficiency; sustainable development; waste; WTO; transparency; policy coordination; Aid for Trade;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • F18 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade and Environment
    • F42 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance - - - International Policy Coordination and Transmission
    • F64 - International Economics - - Economic Impacts of Globalization - - - Environment
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth

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