Greening WTO

Delegates from 130 countries debate linkages between trade and environment

Published: Thursday 15 April 1999

developing countries should ensure transfer of mechanism for environmentally sound technology, capacity building and financial transfer, so that they can reduce the potential for negative environmental impact from trade liberalisation. This was stated by Klaus Topfer, executive director of United Nations Environment Programme ( unep ). He was speaking at the two-day symposium organised by the World Trade Organisation (wto ) in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 15, 1999. The meet was attended by delegates from 130 countries and the non-government organisations ( ngo s) representation was high. The symposium was held to discuss linkages between trade and environment policies, synergies between trade liberalisation, environment protection, sustained economic growth and interaction between trade and environment communities.

The main objective of the wto is to promote free trade among member countries by the removal of trade barriers. Issues between trade and environment are addressed by the Committee on Trade and Environment ( cte ). During the meet, the European Commission was under great pressure to include environment as part of the agenda in the wto and to forge a relationship between wto and civil society.

"We are here to improve relations between trade and environment, and ensure that environmental considerations are taken into account," said Renato Ruggiero, director general of the wto . This is precisely what environment and development ngo s and even official delegates from the developing countries feared. Most felt if the environmental impact of a product is linked to its trade, it could be used as an excuse for imposing trade barriers.

Discussions focussed around issues of transparency within the wto , and various other environment issues amounting to non-trade barriers: eco-labelling, the use of production and the use of precautionary principle, which the us industry felt should be based on sound science or otherwise it would act as a barrier to trade. It was also felt that trade reigned supreme over other issues like multilateral environment agreements ( mea s) and participants debated the need for setting up of another organisation: the World Environment Organisation, which also had more than its share of opponents.

Fresh in the memory of most ngo s was the failure of the biosafety protocol for safe transfer and handling of biotechnology products held in Cartegena, Columbia in February 1999. In his carefully worded speech, which many said was approved by all the director generals of the Commission, Sir Leon Brittan, vice-president of the European Commission exhorted the need for an integrated approach. He asked the developing countries to pursue integrated trade and environment policies. Perhaps the biggest controversy was raised by the Indian delegation that opposed the entry of ngo s in wto proceedings.

Reported by Indira Khurana from Geneva

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