Published on 21 June 2021
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Crafting trade and investment accords for sustainable development

International economic law and policy guides and shapes globalisation, and any possibility of a sustainable economic recovery.

This paper provides cautious optimism. It is an invitation for more sustainable international economic law and policymaking in the future, and for increased engagement in the design, negotiation and implementation of more sustainable trade and investment regimes.

In bilateral and regional economic accords, States are testing many types of provisions related to sustainable development. This paper classifies them into four categories: a general commitment to sustainable development, and three sets of operational provisions, each of which involves the inclusion of diverse measures in the trade and investment treaty to address one of three main normative tensions which arose numerous times in the impact assessment studies carried out on the likely scenarios of outcomes of economic negotiations.

It is not yet clear which of the range of sustainability instruments surveyed in this paper will have the most success in helping to integrate social and economic development and environmental protection. It is likely that no one single measure can provide ‘the solution’ to all trade- and investment-related sustainable development challenges. Rather, many different provisions may be needed, operating in concert throughout the treaty, in order to fully address potential impacts as they arise.

The rules which facilitate trade and investment could defend the interests of Hermes, Greek god of commerce and thieves, or learn to draw inspiration from Athena, goddess of justice, wisdom and the crafts. It is hoped that this framework can serve as a useful tool for more sustainable international economic law and policymaking in the future.

More broadly, it is hoped that this research can contribute to a deeper understanding of trade and investment law, and its potential to foster not frustrate sustainable development.


Marie-Claire Cordonier-Segger

Professor Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger

Chair in Sustainable Development Law and Policy, University of Cambridge

Professor Dr Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, PhD (ad eund, Cantab), DPhil (Oxon), MEM (Yale), BCL & LLB (McGill), BA Hons (Carl/UVic) FRSC FRSA WIJA is a world-leading scholar and jurist in...

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