More than a hundred years since the first breakthroughs in plastics, these have become ubiquitous in our lives: Plastic pens and scissors with plastic handles come in plastic blister packs, which we take home in plastic bags, and there we place them next to a computer and a cell phone, whose plastic cover encases a plastic circuit board. In much of our planet today, it can be hard to look in any direction without finding anything made of plastic. This material is extremely useful; it is also, unfortunately, greatly hazardous to our health, our livelihoods, our food system, and our natural environment, and increasingly so, as a century of waste accumulates in our landfills, oceans and streets. New research by UNCTAD has helped us understand the scale of the issue at hand: More than 336 million tons of plastics were traded in 2018 alone, representing about $1 trillion, a significant 5 percent of world trade. A key problem is that about 75 percent of all plastic produced in history has become waste,[1] showing the low waste disposal and recycling capacity of most countries.[2] Furthermore, unless this is halted, plastics production is expected to quadruple in the next thirty years, largely due to industry growth in Africa, the Middle East and developing Asia.

These problems particularly affect coastal areas, due to their dependence on sectors such as tourism and fishing—sectors especially hurt by plastic bottles washing up on idyllic shores, by plastic bags and abandoned fishing nets choking valuable fish and reducing marine biodiversity, and by microplastics inserting toxins into the marine (and even terrestrial) food system. Island and coastal countries are especially vulnerable to these dangers due to, among other reasons, limited space to dispose of waste. However, there is an opportunity for the countries in the region, by reducing dependence on plastics and developing emerging industries of alternatives to plastics, to protect themselves from these environmental hazards to which they are especially vulnerable, to protect their main sources of livelihood, and to create useful employment and economic development.

Some alternatives may provide accessible opportunities for the sustainable development of Latin American and Caribbean nations. These include glass, ceramics, natural fibres (coconut, palm), pulp (paper, cardboard), and even organic waste such as bagasse and corn husks. Furthermore, new alternatives are constantly under development, and may provide the region with the opportunity to enter the production of entirely new materials based on pre-existing raw materials.

These alternatives may not develop unless political leadership is exercised towards this end. The successful development of industries to produce alternatives to plastics (whether raw materials or finished products) would benefit from consistent trade policies, industrial circularity, effective waste management policies, and incentives for the production of sustainable substitutes. Coordination of private enterprise, civil society and all levels of government, as well as global coordination, is necessary if the nations of the region expect to join the market for alternatives to plastics.

Aware of the dangers faced and the opportunities available, some nations in the region have already implemented measures that contribute to the transition of their economies towards alternatives to plastics. For example: Barbados banned certain single-use plastic objects, including containers, cutlery and straws, as well as some types of plastic bags; Belize issued regulations concerning plastic bags, straws, and containers made from expanded polystyrene; Guyana banned the import and use of expanded polystyrene objects. Such measures help create conditions where the development of alternatives becomes necessary, thus driving economic activity towards the search for and development of substitutes. Those nations that choose this path might discover that, by joining the global movement towards a circular economy early, they will find an opportunity for their prosperity and wellbeing.

[1] United Nations (2019). Advancing Sustainable Development Goal 14: Sustainable fish, seafood value chains, trade and climate. See: 

General objectives

Support Latin American and Caribbean countries in finding and developing pathways to sustainable prosperity by promoting and developing alternatives to plastics, with a focus on the challenges and opportunities available to the Caribbean and coastal areas of Latin America.

  1. Understand the impact of plastic manufacturing and waste on the region
  2. Explore the development of alternatives to plastics as an environmental and economic opportunity for the countries in the region, with an emphasis on the Caribbean case
  3. Explore commercial, industrial and trade policy options to promote the development of alternatives to plastics
  4. Investigate the role of the private sector in shaping and implementing plastics regulations
  5. Explore options to improve waste management, reduce plastic use and increase recyclability in the region
Central theme

During this virtual seminar, we will explore the possibility of developing alternatives to plastics as a way for countries in the region, especially islands, to prevent plastic pollution —which not only produces unsightly garbage, but also threatens tourism, fishing and even public health by introducing toxins into the marine food chain—and use this as an opportunity for becoming more prosperous by joining early a growing global industry and a movement towards a circular economy.

  • The consequences of plastics for the life and economic livelihoods of countries in the region
  • The economic opportunities that arise when developing alternatives to plastics
  • Policies to support the development of the industry of alternatives to plastics
  • Example of the transition process for private enterprises in a country where some measures have already been implemented
Information about the event

Intended for: Stakeholders in leadership and policymaking in economic and environmental matters in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean

Format: Online conference with a duration of 120 minutes (90 minutes of presentations and 30 minutes of questions and answers), to be performed via Zoom

Date and time: Thursday, 29 April 2021, at 11:00am Caracas, 5:00pm Geneva

Co-organizer: UNCTAD

Language: The official language of the event will be English. There will be simultaneous interpretation into Spanish.


Date: Thursday, 29 April 2021
Time: 11:00am Caracas, 5:00pm Geneva
Platform: Zoom


Ambassador Chad Blackman, LLB, LLM, ACIArb – Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Barbados to the United Nations, and Chair of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE)

11:00 – 11:10

Opening Words by Ambassador Javier Paulinich (Spanish), Permanent Secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA)

11:10 – 11:15 Remarks by Roberto Sabonge, Secretary General of the Organization of Caribbean States (OCS)
11:15 – 11:50

The Consequences of Plastics Production and the Transition to Substitutes and Alternatives as on Opportunity for Development

  • David Vivas Eugui – Legal Officer at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
  • Diana Barrowclough – Senior Economist at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
11:50 – 12:05

Initiatives of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) to Promote Sustainable Tourism Practices

12:05 – 12:25

Patterns of Plastic Scrap Trade in Latin America and the Caribbean, Related Policies and Regional Comparisons

  • Henrique Pacini –Economist at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Technical Advisor, Sustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution Programme (SMEP)
12:25 – 12:40

The Role of the Private Sector in Shaping and Implementing Jamaica´s 2019 Ban on Certain Types of Plastics

12:40 – 13:00

Questions and answers / comments


Ambassador Chad Blackman (Barbados, WTO)

His Excellency Chad Blackman is the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Barbados to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva.

Ambassador Blackman has worked in the international development sector for over fifteen years, and has engaged as an international trade law specialist and development consultant respectively. Prior to his tenure in Geneva, he was Legal Consultant and Partner in a Caribbean Law Firm, where he led on issues of international trade, shipping and data protection laws.

Currently, Ambassador Blackman is the Chair for the Trade and Environment Committee in the World Trade Organization (WTO). He chairs the SIDS Group in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), is the Americas Coordinator for the Government Group in the ILO, and is a UN International Gender Champion.

Ambassador Blackman is a British trained international trade law specialist, has undertaken both the LLB Law and LLM International Trade Law at the University of Essex in the UK, and is an Associate member of the London-based Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.


David Vivas Eugui (UNCTAD)

David Vivas Eugui, Legal Officer at the Director’s Office, Division of International Trade and Commodities, UNCTAD.

He is an attorney with more than 25 years of experience on trade, environment, oceans economy, intellectual property, and sustainable development. He possesses strong managerial, leadership and negotiations skills and more than 15 years of experience in strategic planning, programmatic design, implementation, team building, fundraising and setting of impact assessment systems.

He was also Senior Economic Affairs Officer and Legal Officer at the Trade Negotiations and Commercial Diplomacy and the Trade and Environment Branches at UNCTAD; Deputy Programmes Director at ICTSD; Senior Attorney at CIEL; Attaché for Legal Affairs at the Mission of Venezuela to the WTO and Staff Attorney at the Venezuelan Institute of Foreign Trade.

He has a J.D. at the Universidad Católica Andres Bello, Venezuela, a L.L.M. at Georgetown University in the United States, and Master degree on Transnational Business at Universidad Externado, Colombia.


Diana Barrowclough (UNCTAD)

Diana V. Barrowclough is Senior Economist in the Globalization and Development Division, UNCTAD. 

In addition to co-authoring the Trade and Development Report, she is currently managing research on structural transformation, finance and development with a focus on the South-South initiatives and financial and industrial policies for a green New Deal.

She was educated at the University of Cambridge (PhD Economics) and University of Auckland (MA, BA Economics and Political Science).  Recent publications related to this event include Making Banks Work Better for Development (Chapter 6, Trade and Development Report 2019, UNCTAD); Transforming the Global Plastic Economy, with Carolyn Deere Birkbeck (Oxford University, Global Economic Governance Programme); Plastic Production and Trade in Small States and SIDS: The Shift Towards a Circular Economy’, International Trade Working Paper 2021/01, Commonwealth Secretariat, with David Vivas Eugui (2021); and Southern-Led Development Finance: Solutions from the Global South (2020, Routledge; edited with K. Gallagher and R. Kozul-Wright).


Luigi Cabrini (GSTC)

Luigi Cabrini is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council since 2014.

Mr Cabrini led several initiatives on sustainable tourism at global level, focusing his activities on tourism and climate change, tourism and biodiversity, observatories for sustainable tourism, the green economy, tourism and heritage and global partnerships.

He was the Director of the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) Sustainable Tourism Programme, Director for Europe and Secretary of the General Assembly and Executive Council.

From 2014 to 2018 he was an Advisor to the Secretary-General of the UNWTO. Before joining the UNWTO he has been engaged during 20 years in United Nations programmes for development and for  protection of refugees, in Guatemala, Mexico, Somalia and Pakistan.

He was UNHCR Representative in Poland and Spain. Luigi Cabrini is fluent in Italian, English, French and Spanish and has basic knowledge of Russian and Polish. He is the author of various articles and papers.


Henrique Pacini (UNCTAD)

Henrique Pacini is an economist at UNCTAD in Geneva.

His work focuses on trade & circular economy dimensions. Since 2019, he has been part of the core team responsible for the Sustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution (SMEP) programme. 

Dr Pacini has a degree in economics from the University of São Paulo, a M.A. in European Studies from Hochschule Bremen, and a Ph.D. in energy technology from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH – Sweden).

He recently completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University, where he co-chaired the University’s first Circular Economy Symposium. Dr Pacini published over 30 articles on environment, trade and development issues, and has worked for various private and public institutions, including the European Commission and the Brazilian government.


Imega Breese McNab (Private Sector Organization of Jamaica)

Imega Breese McNab is the Executive Director of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

Mrs. Breese McNab is known for her extensive experience in building membership organisations through partnerships, and for her innovative skills in fostering constructive relationships among stakeholders.

She previously served as Executive Director of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA). While at the JMEA she expanded the reach and impact of the biennial trade show, Expo Jamaica; negotiated to help manufacturers retain incentives; helped lead the amalgamation of the Jamaica Manufacturers Association (JMA) and the Jamaica Exporters’ Association (JEA) to form the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA).  

Mrs. Breese McNab grew up in the quaint parish of Hanover, in the fishing village of Sandy Bay. She obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science, with a minor in economics in 2002 and a master’s degree in governance from the University of the West Indies.


Barrowclough, D and D Vivas Eugui (2021), ‘Plastic Production and Trade in Small States and SIDS: The Shift Towards a Circular Economy’, International Trade Working Paper 2021/01, Commonwealth Secretariat, London.



David Vivas Eugui, Legal Officer, Office of the Director, Division of International Trade and Commodities, UNCTAD


Alberto Delgado, Analyst of the Directorate of Relations for Cooperation and Integration, Permanent Secretariat, SELA