Breaking the logjam

The director-general of the WTO promises dialogue with environmental groups

Published: Tuesday 30 June 1998

-- the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (wto), Renato Ruggiero, has promised more dialogue with environmental groups to ally their fears that world trading rules threaten the environment. In his opening address to the wto's second ministerial meeting in Geneva on May 18, Ruggiero acknowledged that the wto's committee on trade and environment, which has spent three years discussing trade-environment links without any tangible results, needed "a renewed political impetus".

"Decisions by wto dispute panels - most recently in the shrimp-turtle case - threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the international trading system in the eyes of the public", said the Worldwide Fund for Nature (wwf).Earlier, the wwf had promo-ted success-ful voluntary schemes for labelling sustainable timber and fish imports.

The uk-based Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said that the exemptions to trade rules "had been interpreted narrowly by panels and...applied in a manner that has started to undermine measures taken to protect high welfare standards".

Recently, a European Union decision to ban fur imports from animals caught with leghold traps had been weakened by a deal struck with Canada and Russia by the European Commission to allow their continued use "in some circumstances".

The ban on the use of animals to test cosmetics should have come into effect in January. But, European member states had failed to implement it. The Commission had been unable to persuade ministers to adopt its proposal setting minimum standards for battery hens' living conditions. The proposals would have increased the price of eggs in the European Commission.

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