• EVENT: Trade, Resource Extraction & Circular Economy

  • DATE: Friday 19th March 2021

  • TIME: 10:00am-11:45am Central European Time

On 19 March, the International Resource Panel, OVAM, the European Environmental Bureau (EBB), UNEP Environment and Trade Hub and the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (ECESP) organised a #EUCircularTalks on Trade, Resource Extraction and Circular Economy.

The event brought together the trade and circular economy communities to increase awareness of the issues raised in the UNEP-IRP report Sustainable Trade in Resources and fed discussions on the EU’s trade policy review and the future of the WTO. The webinar also presented the findings of the UNEP-IRP report.

  • Welcome and Introduction – Sofie Bouteligier (OVAM) and Francesca Carlsson (EEB)

  • Presentation of the UNEP-IRP report Sustainable Trade in Resources – Christina Bodouroglou (IRP Secretariat, UNEP) and Colette van der Ven (UNEP Consultant, International trade lawyer, Founder & Director of TULIP Consulting)

  • The European Union’s Trade Initiative – Speaker from the European Commission (tbc)

  • Greening Trade – Tanja Buzek (Chair of the EESC's International Trade Follow-up Committee)

  • Q&A and Discussion

  • Wrap-up and Next Steps – Sofie Bouteligier (OVAM) and Francesca Carlsson (EEB) 


Trade in material resources – biomass, fossil fuels, metals and non-metallic minerals – has grown strongly over the past half century. In addition to rising international trade in material resources, the so-called upstream resource requirements of traded commodities have also increased. These represent the additional materials, energy, water and land used in the extraction and production of traded goods but left behind as wastes and emissions in the exporting country. They can serve as useful proxies for the ecological impacts of trade.

When considering the whole life cycle of traded products, trade is responsible for much larger amounts of material extraction than direct trade flows indicate.

In 2017, the material requirement for trade was three times the direct trade as more than 35 billion tons of material resources were extracted globally to produce 11 billion tons of directly traded goods. This means that more than one-third of the total 92 billion tons of material resources extracted in the global economy that year were destined to produce goods for trade.

Such analysis by the International Resource Panel (IRP) of the materials embodied in trade reveals that resource-intensive processes have shifted from high-income importing countries to low-income exporting countries, with a corresponding shift in associated environmental burdens.

The extraction and processing of resources for export depletes natural assets, while increasing waste, emissions, loss of biodiversity, land degradation and water pollution. Appropriate policies are therefore needed to address the adverse environmental impacts of trade and ensure that trade helps drive the transition towards a fairer, more sustainable and circular economy.

Policy analysis by UNEP's Environment and Trade Hub shows how both multilateral trade rules and regional trade agreements can be used proactively to advance the circular economy and minimize the environmental impacts associated with resource extraction.