Skip to main content

Sustainable development

Sustainable development has three pillars: economic, environmental and social.

Trade topics
  • Sustainable development

What is sustainable development?

Sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present whilst ensuring future generations can meet their own needs.

It has three pillars: economic, environmental and social. To achieve sustainable development, policies in these three areas have to work together and support each other.

In 2015, world leaders agreed on Agenda 2030, a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets proposed by the United Nations.

The EU was instrumental in shaping Agenda 2030. The EU and its member countries are fully committed to implementing Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals into EU policies.

In June 2022, the Commission published a review of its Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) policy.

EU trade policy and sustainable development

EU law requires all relevant EU policies, including trade policy, to promote sustainable development. EU trade policy aims to ensure that economic development goes hand in hand with:

  • social justice;
  • respect for human rights;
  • high labour standards, and;
  • high environmental standards.

The EU strives to ensure trade policy helps promote sustainable development through:

  • EU trade agreements;
  • special incentives for developing countries, and;
  • trade and development policy.

The EU promotes sustainable development by addressing specific issues in EU trade policy:

Sustainable development in EU trade agreements

Trade agreements are an important driver for sustainable growth both in the EU and in partner countries. Modern EU trade agreements contain rules on trade and sustainable development.

More on Sustainable development in EU trade agreements.

Environmental protection

Through its trade policy the EU supports the implementation of international environmental rules, set mainly in multilateral environmental agreements.

More on Environmental protection.

Human rights

The EU's trade policy, alongside its foreign policy and development cooperation, supports respect for human rights in non-EU countries.

More on Human rights.

Labour rights

The EU uses increased trade opportunities to promote improved labour standards while preventing a 'race to the bottom'.

More on Labour rights

Single Entry Point

The EU contact point to communicate non-compliance with trade and sustainable development commitments.

More on the single entry point files

Responsible business

EU trade policy seeks to help ensure that companies produce their products responsibly, respecting workers and the environment.

More on Responsible business.

Latest news

Latest events