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Stephen Olson presents the STI 2020 at the Asia Pacific Business Forum

Published 30 October 2020 | 8 minute read

Hinrich Foundation Research Fellow Stephen Olson presented the key findings of the 2020 Hinrich Foundation Sustainable Trade Index (STI) at the Asia-Pacific Business Forum (APBF) 2020 on October 30, 2020.

The APBF was held virtually in cooperation with the ESCAP Sustainable Business Network (ESBN). The event focused on fostering dialogue and identifying innovative solutions and recommendations to address the challenges and utilize the opportunities for business, in particular SMEs, to recover from the Covid-19 induced crisis and global trade tensions, restore global trade and investment links through GVCs, while at the same time emphasize the need for sustainability in a changing world.

Stephen Olson presented the Sustainable Trade Index 2020 in the break-out session, titled “Enhancing sustainability of value chains and SMEs”. The session was moderated by Constant Van Aerschot, Director Asia Pacific, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and the speakers included:

Some of the featured remarks from Olson’s presentation included:

  1. For the first time in STI’s history, there is a tie for first place between Japan and South Korea. Both countries have been mainstays in the top five, but 2020 marks the first time for either to rank first.
  2. America’s protectionist stance on trade prevented it from reaching the top five. Between Oct 2018 - Nov 2019, the U.S. enacted 841 tariffs and 1430 non-tariff barriers.

Olson explored some of the policy implications of the STI 2020. According to him, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of sustainable trade principles. He pointed out some of the policy implications arising from the STI 2020.

  • Economic pillar: Avoid over-dependency in trade
  • Social pillar: Political stability helps ensure public buy-in for pandemic policies
  • Environment: Stewardship helps head-off future zoonotic disease

Olson further said there is optimism that pandemic could lead to advancement in sustainable trade. Businesses and investors are becoming proactive on sustainability and putting strong commitments to “build back better”, he noted.

However, concerns were also raised that economic distress could raise the temptation for economies to cut labor and environmental protections. He highlighted Indonesia’s “Omnibus Bill” that reduced red tape and rolled back environmental and labor standards to entice foreign direct investment and become a more attractive market for the businesses.

Olson feels this is an incorrect assumption as businesses are frequently ahead of the government in advancing sustainable trade.

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Pragya Bhatnagar

Pragya Bhatnagar is a former Research Associate with the Hinrich Foundation where he focused on International Trade Research.

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