Sustainable Trade Relations for Diversified Food Systems


Food systems are interdependent. Transforming them into sustainable food systems thus requires a joint effort. In this project, we examine how governments can create more sustainable trade relations in order to promote diversified food systems of a high sustainability value.




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Project description (ongoing research project)

With this project we want to support diversified food systems by framing trade relations in a nuanced way. Diversified food systems perform in a more sustainable way than specialized systems, primarily focusing on the quantity of food production. They support ecological and economic diversification, equitably distribute social benefits, and contribute to a diversified food basket. A core research question is: If a domestic government seeks to grant tariff preferences for sustainably produced food, how can it do so in an effective, proportionate, context-sensitive, non-discriminatory, and reliable way, complying with its international obligations and the objectives enshrined in its Constitution? We combine in-depth legal analysis with analysis of best-practice examples, current challenges in private-sector certification, farmers’ perceptions, and emerging innovations. Workshops in Bolivia, Laos, and Switzerland will help us to generate transdisciplinary knowledge, and a critical historical reflection will shed light on the public/private divide in food labelling. An international and practice-oriented advisory board will bring in additional perspectives.


The project has the potential to push long-established frontiers in the trade debate. It will illustrate how governments can draw a line between more and less sustainably produced food in their trade relations, without violating basic principles of the trade framework, including the principle of non-discrimination.


We aim at supporting diversified food systems both in Switzerland and abroad by framing more sustainable trade regulations. We focus on the role and leverage of the public sector. In particular, we identify ways of distinguishing between sustainably and unsustainably produced food in a context-sensitive manner in order to apply trade incentives along these criteria. Simultaneously, we aim at strengthening the theoretical and empirical foundations of the developed regulatory responses in various academic disciplines.


If future trade relations become more nuanced and explicitly promote diversified food systems, this will be a crucial lever to advance transformation towards a sustainable economy.

Original title

Sustainable Trade Relations for Diversified Food Systems

Project leader(s)

Project leader

  • Dr. iur. Elisabeth Bürgi Bonanomi, Centre for Development and Environment, Universität Bern, Schweiz

Project partners

  • Prof. Dr. Eva Maria Belser Wyss, Institut für Föderalismus, Universität Freiburg, Schweiz
  • Dr. Stefan Mann, Agroscope, Tänikon, Ettenhausen
  • Dr. Andrea Franc, Department Geschichte, Universität Basel
  • Dipl. Ing. ETH Markus Giger, Centre for Development and Environment CDE, Universität Bern
  • Ekolibrium GmbH

Advisory Board

The advisory board is both nationally and internationally oriented, and its members come from a broad range of backgrounds and fields of expertise:

WTO law, agricultural trade and sustainable development

  • University of Berne, World Trade Institute (WTI): Thomas Cottier
  • New York University, School of Law: Rob Howse
  • University of Nairobi: Tabitha Kiriti
  • University of Puerto Rico: Maribel Aponte
  • International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD): Jonathan Hepburn
  • International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD): Sophia Murphy

Social/natural sciences, farming systems

  • Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FIBL: Beate Huber
  • University of Berne, Center for Development and Environment: Sabin Bieri, Albrecht Ehrensperger
  • University of Berne, Institute of Geography: Stephan Rist
  • University Wageningen: Simon Bush

Swiss federal administration

  • Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN): Franz Perrez, Switzerland’s Ambassador for the Environment and expert on trade and environment
  • Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC): Manuel Flury
  • State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO): tbc
  • Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG): tbc

Private sector / civil society

  • Fair Trade Max Havelaar: Manuela Stiffler
  • Migros/Coop: tbc
  • BioSuisse: Martin Bossard
  • Crowd Container: Tobias Joos
  • WWF: Daniela Hoffmann
  • Swissaid: Christine Badertscher
  • Alliance Sud: Isolda Agazzi
  • Swiss Farmers’ Union: Beat Röösli
  • Women in Development Europe (WIDE): Annemarie Sancar
  • Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation: Frank Eyhorn



Further information on this content


Dr. iur. Elisabeth Bürgi Bonanomi Centre for Development and Environment CDE University of Bern Mittelstr. 43 3012 Bern 031 631 39 40

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