Will sustainable trade make the world a better place to live?

The Unit for Sustainable Trade was established at the Department for International Trade last autumn. The Unit promotes discussion about themes linked to sustainable development in trade agreements and multilateral organisations.

Matters related to the environment, climate change, human rights and labour standards have been part of trade policy for a long time but, in recent years, they have been included among trade policy priorities. As the Foreign Ministry wants to emphasise their importance, it established a new Unit to deal with these questions. 

International trade creates jobs and economic prosperity. Successful integration into world trade has boosted the development of several emerging economies over the past few decades. However, the situation in the poorest countries is still different; they are stuck in raw material production or other activities with low added value in global value chains. A key part of the Unit's work is to support the poorest developing countries through multilateral trade and development organisations.

However, the volume of trade is not a sufficient yardstick, quality matters, too. It is important that production does not cause negative impacts with regard to human rights or the environment. In many matters that fall under the Unit’s mandate, a balance is sought between efforts to promote sustainable development goals (SDGs) and trade simultaneously. Trade can advance sustainable development if it involves not only commitment to effective implementation of international human rights and environmental standards but also promotion of trade in environmental products and services. The removal of trade barriers can further the introduction of new technologies that can be used to combat climate change and respond to other environmental challenges.

Wide-ranging sustainability expertise and good sense of humour

The Unit’s daily tasks are related to working out solutions to the challenges and opportunities described above. More about the staff members and the themes:

Mari Carlson (Commercial Secretary) has solid expertise of environmental issues. She is responsible for matters related to the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), deforestation, environmental elements of the EU’s trade agreements, trade and environmental in the WTO, the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform, and the integration of the circular economy into trade policy. In addition, Mari gives trade policy advice related to Latin American countries. Mari’s special expertise includes managing extensive entities (in other words, controlling chaos) and combining questions that concern environmental sustainability and the economy.

Lauri Kangasniemi (Commercial Secretary) is the backbone of the whole Department’s analysis work. He is responsible for international trade statistics and their interpretation. Lauri is also in charge of the overall coordination of matters concerning the World Economic Forum (WEF). Lauri’s special expertise includes foresight work and interpretation of interfaces and developments linked to trade policy and the broader international economy.

Eeva Lahti (Counsellor) is a professional interested in security, democracy and the rule of law. Her responsibilities include overall coordination of the central government’s activities in the OECD and the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), which is one of the Union’s most important trade policy instruments used to promote key human rights, workers’ rights, sustainable development, and good governance in developing countries. Eeva also gives advice on trade policy related to Chile, Mexico and Brazil. Eeva is an expert in handling broad entities and in keeping many balls in the air at the same time.

Linda Piirto (Commercial Counsellor) is a specialist in responsible business. She is in charge of a wide range of matters related to trade, developing countries and sustainable development as well as human rights, labour standards and gender issues in trade agreements, EU regulation and other international cooperation. Her responsibilities include also coordination of the EU–Mercosur trade agreement negotiations. Linda is also the Foreign Ministry’s representative in the anti-corruption cooperation network. Linda is a specialist in matters concerning better regulation and public procurement. She approaches challenges in a both positive and unyielding manner.

Antti Piispanen (Commercial Counsellor) is a long-term expert in development policy and trade policy. He is responsible for Aid for Trade matters. Antti handles questions related to most multilateral trade and development organisations in Finland: the International Trade Centre (ITC), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), the Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL) and the CFC - Common Fund for Commodities. Antti is part of the Department for “old Africa hand”, and he is responsible for matters relating to all countries in the African continent and the Middle East. Antti’s special expertise includes preparing speaking notes for different situations and events and assessing the effectiveness of projects funded by the Department.

Kent Wilska (Director of Unit) is an old pro in trade policy with decades of expertise in long-lasting negotiations and with an ace up his sleeve in tight places. Aside from trade policy, Kent’s special expertise includes trade and development questions and responsible business conduct. In addition, Kent’s good memory makes him an excellent source of information and he is good at jokes!

Touko Närhi (trainee), Kent Wilska, Lauri Kangasniemi and Antti Piispanen at the top row from the left, Linda Piirto and Eeva Lahti at the bottom row.

Trade agreements, regulatory initiatives and analyses of the state of the world on the agenda in autumn

Next autumn, the Unit will have on its agenda the Commission’s review of paragraphs in trade agreements on sustainable development, the proposal for regulation on forced labour, possible progress in trade agreements (especially Chile, Mexico and perhaps even Mercosur) and the ever-increasing initiatives on the environment and trade in the EU and the WTO. The OECD’s assessments and analyses of the state of the world also keep the Unit busy. A modest objective is to promote awareness of the organisation’s work in the Ministry and beyond.

The tasks of the Unit for Sustainable Trade, the authors and links to different tasks are described in the graph.