Helen E. S. Nesadurai

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Jul 19, 2021

Access to global markets is increasingly conditional on meeting social and environmental standards in a number of strategic economic sectors relevant to Southeast Asia. Although linking trade to environmental and labour standards is not new, what has changed is the extent to which diverse, often competing public and private socio-environmental standards are reshaping, albeit unevenly, global supply chains in key commodities produced in these countries while cross-cutting demands to improve socio-environmental practices in these sectors enter supply chains from many sources and levels, often taking by surprise targeted economic actors and their governments. Such pressures have been in the making for over two decades but were uneven, diffuse, and mostly emanated from non-profit actors, and so governments missed, misinterpreted or dismissed these until about some years ago when their combined, interactive effects became visible and significant. In such complex situations, economic security requires industry resilience, which at the least, requires fundamental recognition that socio-environmental standards are here to stay, will likely escalate and will, therefore, require changes to local production processes even as states use various diplomatic tools to address more immediate barriers to market access.

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