Policy Brief: Trade Provisions in Multilateral Environmental Agreements-Key Elements for Consideration in the Context of a Treaty to End Plastic Pollution

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Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL
Regional project
Country project
Document type
Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution - Technical Resource for Pacific Island Courtiers
(Publications under review and may be updated prior to 30 September)

Plastics trade is an essential component of discussions to develop an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution, for three reasons:

1. Plastic feedstocks, polymers, additives, plastic pellets, plastic products, and waste are largely traded internationally1 and the liberalization2 of trade in plastics and their feedstocks supports the rise in production and consumption of plastics, accelerating the plastic crisis;

2. Trade in plastics acts as a conveyor belt for the spread of products, packing and packaging responsible for plastic pollution, including micro- and nanoplastics around the world;3 and

3. Trade in plastics products and products packaged in plastic adds to the waste management burden that importing countries face.

Additionally, Global trade in plastic is immense. Plastics imports and exports in “primary, intermediate and final forms of plastics [represent] up to more than US$1 trillion in 2018 or 5% of the total value of global trade.”4 In 2020, there were 369 million tons of plastics traded - $1,2 trillion in value -, a significant increase from the previous years (UNCTAD, 2022d).

UNEP also identified trade as one of the key elements to address (through the full life cycle of plastics) in its Plastics Science document published in preparation of the first Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC1) (UNEP/PP/INC.1/7).5 As measures for achieving the strategic goals for systems change, UNEP proposed among others to include (i) bans of specific final goods as well as problematic and unnecessary polymers and additives; as well as restrictions and phase out of harmful substances, (ii) taxes/tariffs related to upstream, and midstream activities and products; (iii) removal of fossil fuel subsidies; and (iv) customs duties.6

Given this importance, and to ensure that the goal of ending plastic pollution is successfully achieved, it will be essential (i) to recognize the contribution and role of trade in plastic pollution and (ii) ensure that the plastics treaty includes trade-related measures as core obligations.7
  • Final-CIEL-Policy-Brief-Trade-Provisions-in-Multilateral-Environmental-Agreements-Key-Elements-for-Consideration-in-the-Context_FORMATTED-V1.pdf