Economic Development

The Hinrich Foundation Sustainable Trade Index 2018

June 26, 2018


June 26, 2018

Chris Clague

Managing editor Asia & Global editorial lead, Trade and globalisation

Chris Clague is managing editor in Asia for Economist Impact. He is an expert in international trade and trade policy and has also advised clients throughout the Asian region on the strategic implications of megatrends and political risk. He was a consultant in The Economist Group's Tokyo office and was the project leader and editor for the Economist Intelligence /Nikkei BP publication The World to 2050 (available in Japanese only). 

Prior to joining The Economist Group, he was a senior consultant and Director of China Operations for a boutique consulting firm that worked with governments and MNCs on issues related to international trade, investment, and commodities. 

Chris holds an MSc in Asian Politics from the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a certificate in International Trade Law and Economics from the World Trade Institute’s summer academy. He provides regular commentary on trade and the Japanese economy to international media.


The global rules-based trading system is facing its biggest threat in recent history as protectionist forces are on the march across many developed countries in the West.

Yet the enthusiasm in Asia for trade does not appear to have waned. This broad societal consensus behind international trade has enabled Asian countries to continue broadening and deepening existing trading relationships, for example, by quickly hammering out a deal for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in early 2018 following the US’s withdrawal from its predecessor in 2017.

Asia, then, finds itself in the unique position of helping lead and sustain the global economy’s commitment to free and fair trade. It is in this context that the need for sustainability in trade is ever more crucial.

The Hinrich Foundation Sustainable Trade Index was created for the purpose of stimulating meaningful discussion of the full range of considerations that policymakers, business executives, and civil society leaders must take into account when managing and advancing international trade. 

The index was commissioned by the Hinrich Foundation, a non-profit organisation focused on promoting sustainable trade. This, the second edition of the study, seeks to measure the capacity of 20 economies—19 in Asia along with the US—to participate in the international trading system in a manner that supports the long-term domestic and global goals of economic growth, environmental protection, and strengthened social capital. The index’s key findings include:

  • Countries in Asia, especially the richer ones, have broadly regressed in terms of trade sustainability.
  • Hong Kong is developed Asia’s bright spot, recording a slight increase in its score and topping the 2018 index.
  • Several middle-income countries perform admirably, led by Sri Lanka.
  • For the economic pillar, countries generally performed well in terms of growing their labour forces as well as their per-head GDPs.
  • For the social pillar, sharp drops for some countries in certain social pillar indicators contribute to an overall decline.
  • For the environmental pillar, with deteriorating environmental sustainability in many rich countries, China, Laos and Pakistan are the only countries to record increases in scores.
  • Sustainability is an ever more important determinant of FDI and vendor selection in choosing supply-chain partners.
  • Companies are improving the sustainability of their supply chains by restructuring and broadening relationships with competitors and vendors.

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