Trade Policies for a Circular Economy: What can we Learn from the WTO Experience?



Karsten Steinfatt | WTO

From its initial focus on minimizing waste generation, the circular economy has evolved into a broadbased 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.


Karsten Steinfatt has been with the Trade and Environment Division of the WTO Secretariat since 2011. He supports the work of the WTO’s regular and negotiating committees on trade and environment, including through research and analysis of relevant economic issues.

To read the original report from the World Trade Organisation, please visit here