Wanted: a green WTO

Calls to set up a World Environment Organisation are getting more strident

Published: Tuesday 15 August 2000

-- the French have always wanted to set up a World Environment Organisation ( weo ). It is therefore not surprising that the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin should once again raise the issue of setting up a weo . So what exactly is a weo? As conceived by its proponents the weo should be lean, flexible and focussed on the specific challenges presented by international environmental problems.

Developing countries are wary of such a proposal and there are reasons for their caution. Efforts to institutionalise global environmental governance may tighten the noose on international trade and development. There is a general feeling among most members of the civil society in the us that the weo will allow the us to lead a global effort for environmental improvement. While some feel that the weo should not be invested with powers over trade but work alongside or separately from trade related organisations. Unfortunately the strongest calls for a weo come from quarters that would like to merge global economic rules with environmental concerns. This is precisely what developing countries fear.

Third World economies, even the strongest, depend heavily on trade with the North. The collapse of the Tiger economies in the 1990s has illustrated how fragile the strongest economies in the East are. Trade bans imposed in the name of protecting the environment are a weapon that only the rich can use against the poor. This is grossly unfair. The us for example had once imposed a ban on the import of shrimp from India because shrimp harvesting practices in India endangered the lives of Olive Ridley Turtles. If India were to impose a ban on the us it would amount to a contemptible gesture as India's trade ban will not hurt the us economy one bit.

If the weo is set up at some date it must be made very clear at the onset that nations of the world do not have the right to impose their environmental standards on other countries or try and adopt the role of a global green cop.

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