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Trade and Biodiversity: New Methodology to Better Assess Impacts

The European Commission has published a new methodology for assessing the impacts of trade liberalisation on biodiversity and ecosystems on 19 May. The new methodology will contribute to further improve the sustainability impact assessments and ex-post evaluations of EU trade agreements, in support of the objectives of the European Green Deal.

The methodology provides a stepwise process with a special focus on quantifying the impacts of trade liberalisation on biodiversity, such as forests and wetlands. It is meant to be flexible and adaptable to the context of various types of trade agreements and partner countries.

Executive Vice President for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: "The acceleration of biodiversity loss, paired with climate change and environmental degradation, have led to the recognition of the green transition as the defining challenge of our time. Supporting this ecological transition is one of the core objectives of EU trade policy. Our new Trade Policy Strategy further reinforces our commitment to sustainable trade. Our vast network of trade agreements provide an important platform to engage with our partners on global environmental issues. We have committed in our new trade strategy to prioritising the effective implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity in trade and investment agreements. I welcome this new methodology which will contribute to better assessing the impact of our agreements."

Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: "Over half of global GDP depends on nature and the services it provides. And yet due to our unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, it is disappearing in front of our eyes, putting our health, food security and economy at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need for sustainable supply chains and consumption patterns that do not exceed planetary boundaries. EU trade policy must actively support and be part of the ecological transition. I am glad this new methodology will help us achieve this key commitment of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030."

Trade liberalisation can bring economic benefits as well as have both positive and negative impact on biodiversity, ecosystems and the services they provide. These impacts need to be assessed, incentives need to be created to foster positive impacts and mitigating measures are needed to avoid negative impacts.

The new methodology, prepared by external experts, focuses on the identification and application of a set of indicators that capture changes in biodiversity status and trends. It focuses on:

  • drivers for change (e.g. changes in economic sectors generated by a trade agreement)

  • pressure on biodiversity (e.g. land/resource use or resource quality change linked to economic change)

  • impact on biodiversity (e.g. change in biodiversity and ecosystems linked to pressure)

  • response to address change (e.g. existing or new safeguards to prevent negative impacts or measures to amplify positive impacts).

The methodology recommends that these impacts be assessed in a comprehensive manner, using data, research, existing case studies, expert knowledge and stakeholder interviews. For the most significant biodiversity impacts, it recommends quantified analysis whenever possible.

This new approach will contribute to improved and streamlined assessments of biodiversity impacts in evaluations of EU trade agreements to ensure that they respond to the challenges of the green transition. It is already being tested for the EU-Colombia/Ecuador/Peru ex-post evaluation.

Finally, the methodology also supports the Commission’s ambition to secure a global agreement on how to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in the next decade and beyond at the Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CoP 15) later this year.

Economic activities inevitably affect the environment and this effect can sometimes be detrimental for the nature, also affecting biodiversity. Therefore it is important that the European Commission utilises different tools and methodologies to better assess the impacts of trade and globalisation on the environment, which once again clearly demonstrates the emphasis the European Union places on the crisis of climate change. As ECOPNET (European Cooperation and Partnership Network), we strive to transform our work to be in line with the European Green Deal and the principles of circular economy and we continue to encourage our partners to adapt to the changes under the European Green Deal for both economically enriching and environment-friendly business.


In accordance with the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, adopted in May 2020, the Commission will better assess the impact of trade agreements on biodiversity and the need to strengthen the biodiversity provisions of trade agreements. This commitment was supported by the Council in its Conclusions of October 2020. The new methodology is a key deliverable to help operationalise this Commission commitment.

The recent Communication on the EU Trade Policy Review acknowledges the role of trade policy in supporting the fundamental transformation of the EU economy in line with its green objectives, and in promoting more sustainable and responsible supply chains. The Commission is also committed to ensure that EU trade agreements respond to the new challenges relating to the green transition, to ensure full implementation of the trade and sustainable development commitments in its trade agreements, and the enforcement of these binding provisions, including through the EU Chief Trade Enforcement Officer.

Some studies estimate that 80% of global deforestation is driven by agricultural expansion, a phenomenon that has roots in the global demand for agricultural commodities. This is why the Commission committed to deliver a new legislative proposal in 2021 to minimize the risk that commodities and products that are associated with deforestation and forest degradation are placed on the EU market. The impact assessment for the proposal is currently ongoing, and a wide variety of regulatory and non-regulatory policy options will be assessed.

Source: European Commission Directorate-General for Environment Newsroom


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