Resource productivity and waste

The Role of Trade in the Circular Economy Transition

20 October 2022
16:30-18:00 (CEST)
WTO Headquarters
Hybrid Meeting



The Role of Trade in the Circular Economy Transition 

A circular economy aims to transform the current linear economy into a circular model to reduce the consumption of finite material resources by recovering materials from waste streams for recycling or reuse, using products longer, and exploiting the potential of the sharing and services economy. Circular economy policies and initiatives largely take place domestically at the national or regional level. However, they have important interlinkages with international trade.

The "Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy" (RE-CIRCLE) project provides policy guidance on resource efficiency and the transition to a circular economy. It aims to identify and quantify the impact of resource-efficient, circular economy policies to guide a range of stakeholders in OECD member countries and emerging and other market economies through quantitative and qualitative analysis. 

This session investigated the following questions: 

How can the circular economy transition be designed to have triple dividend for the economy, labour markets and the environment?

How can trade contribute to a more resource-efficient and circular economy? 

In what ways can we secure policy coherence to facilitate the circular economy transition?


The OECD-organised session on "The role of trade in the Circular Economy transition" at the WTO Trade and Environment Week, aimed to shed light on how a global transition to a circular economy can be supported by trade and how policy coherence between CE and trade policies can be fostered.

The first part of the session consisted of 3 presentations by OECD staff, highlighting the breadth and depth of relevant OECD work in recent years. Rob Dellink kicked off the session with an introduction and a presentation on the narrow path for a CE transition to have environmental, economic and social gains. He highlighted how global materials use is projected to double until 2060, and how this links to economic activities such as construction for infrastructure development. He stressed how a switch to secondary materials and a transition to a CE in more general could alleviate severe environmental consequences and lead to job gains.

The second presentation, by Shunta Yamaguchi, showed how international trade and circular economy are interlinked through global supply chains, end-of-life value chains and services trade, and highlighted opportunities for co-operation towards a mutually supportive trade and circular economy agenda, such as on environmental goods and services, definitions and classifications, and regulations and standards.

The third presentation, by Evdokia Moise gave an overview of the markets for re-using and recycling lithium-ion batteries, the expected evolution of recycling capacity, related innovation and investments, and the role of international trade for current and future circular chains for Li-ion batteries.

After these presentations, Olivia Cook, one of the co-facilitators of the informal working group on trade and circular economy at TESSD, moderated a panel discussion with Hugo Schally of the European Commission, Christophe Bellmann of TESS and the OECD speakers. The main conclusions from the discussions were four-fold:

  • The CE transition needs an all-of-lifecycle approach. Downstream waste management is important, but as one of the speakers phrased it "the problems and solutions start upstream".
  • Trade policy needs to accommodate two seemingly opposing objectives: trade that leads to environmental degradation, such as waste dumping, needs to be strictly regulated. But at the same time, trade is essential to scale up circular business models and markets for recycling, secondary materials and second-hand goods. In loose terms, facilitate the good flows, and regulate the bad ones.
  • The global international development and co-operation angle is crucial as only a global transition to a CE brings significant environmental and economic gains.
  • The ongoing discussions at WTO, not least those at TESSD and IDP, are vital to make progress, and it is heartening to see so many countries actively engaged in finding ways to reconcile trade and CE objectives further.

Agenda, presentations and video recording



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