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While international trade acts as an engine for development and has improved living conditions of many people, inadequate infrastructure, adverse trade policies and low competitiveness prevent low-income countries from participating in and benefiting from that trade. Sida supports initiatives to simplify trade, develop trade policies and strengthen small businesses.

Progress has been made

Promotes development

The exponential growth of international trade over the past 30 years has played a central role in global development, creating jobs and raising wages, and thereby reducing poverty. 

Strenghtens women’s impowerment

Companies engaged in international trade generally employ more women than those that only sell on the domestic market. Digitalisation and legislative reforms have made it easier for women to start a business and engage in trade.¹

Sustainability in focus

Many consumers want goods and services that are environmentally and socially sustainable. This, together with more governments prioritizing sustainability, makes sustainability issues more important in world trade, which benefits the environment.²

Challenges remain

Covid-19 a setback

Covid-19 impacts global trade, development and the pursuit of global goals The least developed countries are particularly hard hit.

Environment negatively impacted

The global increase in production and consumption has a negative impact on the environment and climate, among other things by increasing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, creating more waste and placing higher demands on natural resources. 

Lack of resources

Lack of reliable energy, infrastructure, transport and communication technologies slows the growth of trade in many countries. The digital divide separating developed and developing nations and the fact that women are less likely to have access to the internet and smartphones also present challenges.

Sida's work with trade

The world’s least developed countries are marginalised in global trade, accounting for only 1 percent of exported goods. Exports from the least developed countries have developed negatively in recent years.

More and more countries have raised the threshold for international trade in order to protect domestic products and services from competition from abroad, using tools such as import duties, customs duties and import quotas.³ This makes trading more expensive and more complicated and creates uncertainty on the market, not least for low-income countries.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also led to more trade barriers, creating even greater uncertainty for companies trading internationally.4

Trade policy and free trade agreements

Many of Sida´s cooperation countries are finding it difficult to develop their trade policies and are having little opportunity to participate in or influence negotiations regarding international trade agreements. For many countries, this is a major obstacle to playing a larger role in global trade.

Increasing regional influence over trade in Africa

The countries of southern and eastern Africa are largely excluded from regional and international trade negotiations. They are also being badly affected by climate change. The NGO Consumer Unity and Trust Society International (CUTS) brings together policy-makers and grassroots stakeholders on issues related to climate and trade policy and food security, increasing regional influence over trade and climate negotiations. The South African non-profit organisation Trade Law Center in Africa (Tralac) develops technical expertise in trade governance to increase marginalised stakeholders’ influence on trade policy and the knowledge of small businesses regarding trade law.

Strengthening Liberia's participation in international trade

Countries that are not members of multilateral organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or signatories to international trade agreements find it more difficult to attract investors and participate in global trade. Among other initiatives, Sida supports cooperation between the National Board of Trade in Sweden and the Liberian Ministry of Commerce & Industry, aimed at strengthening the country’s participation in international trade. This collaboration resulted in Liberia becoming the 163rd member of the WTO in record time in 2016.

Simplified trade procedures

International trade procedures include recommendations and standards for the flows and administration required for a company to export or import its goods or services, such as customs, taxation, transport and payment procedures. In many parts of the world, regulations and administration can be complicated and fees expensive, making participation in global trade difficult for low-income countries.

Increases resilience within businesses

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for a large proportion of the business sector in low-income countries but often find it difficult to break into an international market. The International Trade Centre supports SMEs in low-income countries to become more competitive and resilient to climate change, with a specific focus on companies managed by women and young people.

International Trade Centre webpage

Simplifying trade within and with the Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the lowest participation in global trade, in part due to political instability, high trade costs and a lack of common rules and standards. The regional organisation Arab Accreditation Cooperation (ARAC) inspects, tests and certifies goods and services.  Through support from United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Arac continues to develop and be an important player in the region’s trade.

Scope of Sida's work with trade

Trade is included in Sida’s support within the international agenda Aid for Trade, in which also private sector development is included. the support within the agenda amounts to SEK 3,7 billion in 2020.

The largest part goes to multilateral organisations, for example, the World Bank and International Trade Center (ITC) where support is given together with other countries and donors.

Updated: November 9, 2023