Sustainability Provisions in Regional Trade Agreements: Can they be Multilateralised?
With the rise of deep-integration regional trade agreements (RTAs), the role of sustainable development has become an inevitable discussion. Recent agreements reflect a trend in favour of incorporating comprehensive sustainable development provisions, not just among developed countries, but also among some developing countries, with different countries employing different approaches to ensure the protection of social, economic, and environmental concerns. Despite the different approaches, similarities across the RTAs have emerged. The emerging homogeneity in these RTAs has opened discussions about a possible convergence between regionalism and multilateralism. Having multilateral commitments on trade and sustainable development could advance the cause of sustainability, while at the same time bolstering the multilateral, rules-based trading system. However, there are challenges associated with convergence, particularly with the enforceability of sustainability provisions. Also, there is a general reluctance among developing countries to take on binding commitments in this area. Given the lack of progress generally in the World Trade Organization (WTO) on sustainability issues and the hesitance of developed countries to adopt enforceable obligations, a plurilateral solution seems difficult, although not impossible. A proper navigation course is required for this initiative to be successful; the paper explores several options in this respect.