Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution
Members: 62/164
Open Initiative
Status: Ministerial Statement Agreed for MC12

Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade (IDP) is described by its proponents as being borne out of the recognition of the need for coordinated action to address the rising environmental, health and economic cost of plastics pollution and the importance of the trade dimension as a solution.

Possible subjects for discussion include improving transparency, monitoring trade trends, promoting best practices, strengthening policy coherence, identifying the scope for collective approaches, assessing capacity and technical assistance needs, and cooperating with other international processes and efforts.

The co-coordinators of the initiative are Australia, Barbados, China, Ecuador, Fiji and Morocco.

About this Plurilateral

The following WTO Members have cosponsored the Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution: Australia, Barbados, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, European Union, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Fiji, The Gambia, Hong Kong – China, Iceland, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Macao – China, Morocco, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Thailand, Uruguay, United Kingdom, and Vanuatu. 

Public Documents

The following official WTO documents relating to the Informal Dialogue on Plastic Pollution have been released publicly:

Presentation: European Union experience with the transition to a Circular Plastics sector

Date: 21 June 2021 Member: European Union Document: INF/TE/IDP/RD/5 Our summary: A set of slides from a European Union presentation on its experience transitioning to a circular economy model of its plastics sector.

Statement by Carolyn Deere Birkbeck, Director of the Forum on Trade, Environment and the SDGs (TESS)

Date: 21 June 2021 Member: European Union Document: INF/TE/IDP/RD/15 Our summary: Remarks delivered by the Director of the TESS Forum at the 21 June meeting of the Informal Dialogue on Plastic Pollution. Dr Birkbeck’s remarks shared the findings of an upcoming report entitled ‘How can international trade policy help tackle plastic pollution?’ which will be published by the Global Governance Centre and the TESS Forum.   

Development Initiatives

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) Future of Trade and Investment Platform have launched a work programme on value chains and plastic pollution. The initiative offers country-level case studies and cross-regional dialogue on specific ways trade can address the plastic crisis.

The case studies will allow for tailored insights according to countries’ plastic flows, industries and specific needs. Countries wishing to express interest in the programme can start by taking a short online readiness assessment exploring collaboration across government and sectors on trade and plastic pollution.

A factsheet on the initiative can be found here.

For more information, please get in touch with:  

Forum on Trade, Environment & the SDGs (TESS)

The Sustainability portions of this website would not be possible without the support and contributions of our friends at the Forum on Trade, Environment & the SDGs (TESS).

TESS supports trade policies that advance environmental sustainability and the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It facilitates dialogue and action to align trade and trade policy with the urgent need for global action on the intersecting crises of climate, nature and pollution, informed by the need to address the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development.

Launched in mid-2021, TESS is a partnership of the Geneva Graduate Institute and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and we are proud to house it at the Geneva Trade Platform.

Analysis and Articles
  • UNCTAD - How to build concerted multilateral action on plastic pollution Authors: David Vivas-Eugui, Legal Officer, and Henrique Pacini, Economist, UNCTAD

    Turning the tide on plastic pollution requires multiple and parallel responses within the UN and the multilateral trade system to succeed. It also requires bottom-up, detailed analysis and action at the domestic level, redesigning incentives towards less overall resource usage. While plastic owes its success to its special physical properties, the response by the UN and the multilateral trade system to the plastic pollution challenge must have equivalent properties by being malleable, useful, adaptable and lightweight.

  • GPAP - Trade and the Circular Economy: A deep dive into plastics action in Ghana The case study aims to better understand how trade flows and trade policies may help or hinder Ghana in addressing plastic pollution and transitioning to a circular economy. The research and recommendations form a preliminary assessment and complement the forthcoming Roadmap for Radical Reduction of Plastic Pollution in Ghana.

  • WEF - Plastics, the Circular Economy and Global Trade This briefing note draws on the expertise of trade and environment experts from across the plastics value chain to identify the key cross-border challenges to scaling a more circular economy for plastics. It also provides basic trade and investment solutions for tackling these challenges and opens the door for further multistakeholder collaboration to build a sustainable circular plastics economy.

MC12 Ministerial Statement on Plastic Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade

The proponents circulated this Ministerial Statement to all WTO Members on 22 November in WTO unrestricted document WT/MIN(21)/8.  


  We, the Ministers representing the following Members of the WTO: Australia; Barbados; Cabo Verde; Cambodia; Cameroon; Canada; Central African Republic; Chad; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Ecuador; European Union; Fiji; The Gambia; Hong Kong, China; Iceland; Jamaica; Japan; Kazakhstan; Macao, China; Morocco; New Zealand; Norway; Panama; Peru; Philippines; Russian Federation; Switzerland; Thailand; United Kingdom; and Vanuatu issue this statement at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12):


  Recalling that the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO recognizes the role of trade in achieving the objective of sustainable development and the need to protect and preserve the environment. Noting the role of trade in contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals and environmental sustainability, including the fight against climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. Recognizing that the rising environmental, biodiversity, health and economic costs of plastic pollution are a concern that increasingly unites all Members, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified these concerns. Recalling the need for further commitment and actions across the life cycle of plastics to address marine litter and microplastics, including through a circular economy approach. Acknowledging the impact that plastic pollution (including microplastics pollution) has on economies and the environment, including on oceans, coastal and terrestrial environments, particularly on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) which are especially vulnerable to environmental impacts, and recognizing the challenges that developing members and least developed Members face in addressing trade-related aspects of plastics pollution, including in moving towards environmentally sustainable and effective substitutes and alternatives and the role for multilateral trade cooperation in promoting good practices. Recalling the inaugural statement ( WT/CTE/W/250/Rev.1 )1 and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the trade-related aspects of the plastic pollution challenge, including by supporting synergies between the WTO and other international organizations, in particular the Secretariats of Multilateral Environmental Agreements and their related processes. Acknowledging the many international, regional and domestic efforts, decisions and processes aimed at addressing the plastic pollution challenge in other fora, including, inter alia, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (Basel Convention) and its Plastic Waste Amendments, and in the context of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), and highlighting the opportunities for enhanced cooperation among the different processes working towards a common vision taking into account the importance to ensure complementarity and avoid duplication of efforts. Noting that recent research by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) indicates trade in plastics accounts for as much as 5 % of global trade – or more than 1 trillion US dollars in 2019 – almost 40% higher than previously estimated, with more trade in plastics still unaccounted. Noting the importance of work in the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment as well as the synergies with other processes and initiatives at the WTO, and that work on this topic is a key part of broader WTO discussions to advance shared trade and environmental sustainability objectives. Recognizing the contribution of our discussions so far (as summarized in the IDP Factual Report – INF/TE/IDP/W/3 ), which covered all six topics initially agreed ( WT/CTE/W/250/Rev.1 )1, to provide a clearer picture of international, regional, and domestic efforts to reduce plastic pollution and transition to a more circular and environmentally sustainable global plastics economy, as well as synergies, and the opportunities and value-added nature of addressing trade dimensions of the topic. Noting the value and importance of proactive engagement by a broad diversity of Members and relevant stakeholders, including, inter alia, international organizations and institutions, trade and environmental authorities and domestic bodies, the private sector, academia, and civil society.  

1 The six topics initially agreed were: improving transparency and monitoring trade trends; promoting best practices; strengthening policy coherence; identifying the scope for collective approaches; assessing capacity and technical assistance needs; and cooperating with other international processes and efforts.

Shared Understandings Reached

  We have accordingly reached the following shared understandings:

1. To intensify our work on areas of common interest with a view to identifying actions that participating Members could take collectively to support global efforts to reduce plastics pollution. Inter alia, this includes:

•  Identifying ways to improve the understanding of global trade in plastics, including flows of plastics embedded in internationally traded goods or associated with them (such as plastic packaging), and enhance transparency regarding trade policies relevant to reducing plastic pollution and more environmentally sustainable plastics trade. •  Sharing experiences of effective approaches to move towards more circular, resource efficient and environmentally sustainable plastics trade. •  Addressing trade-related capacity building and technical assistance needs of developing members, in particular least developed members and vulnerable SIDS, to support their efforts to:

•  move towards more circular plastics economies;

•  improve the environmentally sound management, recovery and recycling of plastics;

•  facilitate access to key technologies;

•  expand trade in environmentally sustainable and effective substitutes and alternatives;

•  encourage collaboration with the relevant stakeholders through, inter alia, the exchange of knowledge and experience relating to the development of and access to environmentally sustainable and effective (including cost and functionally effective) substitutes and alternatives to single-use plastics;

•  develop and strengthen local capacities to produce environmentally sustainable and effective substitutes and alternatives to single-use plastics; and

•  design and implement trade policies to address plastic pollution.

•  Considering plastic pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade in Aid for Trade with environmentally sustainable objectives.

2. We emphasize the importance of continuing to engage and support actions in other international processes, including:

•  Enhancing cooperation with other international organizations in areas such as definitions, scope, standards, design and labelling for plastics (including plastic packaging) and capacity building that would promote a more environmentally sustainable plastics sector, including through relevant international processes, and intensifying our work and continued cooperation on areas of common interest, such as the ongoing discussions towards a new global instrument on plastics at UNEA-5, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Basel Convention. •  Identifying effective trade policies or measures to support the implementation of actions under other international processes and efforts and strengthening cooperation and policy coherence within rules and mechanisms of the WTO. •  Identifying actions needed to improve gathering of data on trade flows and supply chains, including by utilizing the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS Convention) of the World Customs Organization or other trade instruments or standards, such as UN/CEFACT, and the flow of information about the chemical and material characteristics of plastic products traded internationally.

3. To hold dedicated discussions with a view to identify best practices and share experiences regarding:

•  How trade-related cooperation could help to support efforts to reduce unnecessary or harmful plastics and plastic products, including single-use plastics and plastic packaging associated with international trade that are not essential for medical or sanitary purposes, with special attention to issues and challenges arising for developing members. •  How to promote trade in goods and services including the use of technologies that can reduce plastic pollution, such as: environmentally sustainable waste management technologies; environmentally sustainable and effective substitutes and alternatives; and reused and recycled plastics, including by incentivizing increased reuse and recycling of plastics (considering evidence of their long-term impacts), and identifying technologies for environmentally sustainable and effective substitutes and alternatives of interest to developing members and least developed members, including SIDS which are especially vulnerable to marine litter and plastic pollution, and opportunities for their MSMEs.

4. We invite other WTO Members to join this Ministerial Statement.

5. We will continue to regularly update Members to ensure progress and cooperation on implementing actions of this Ministerial Statement, and to inform WTO Members about the IDP, including through the Committee on Trade and Environment.

6. We will look for concrete, pragmatic, and effective outcomes on these actions and understandings at the latest by MC13.