GENEVA, Switzerland -- The World Trade Organization has failed to correct its bias against environment in the last chance it had in the famous shrimp-turtle' case, the conservation organization WWF said here today.
Yesterday evening, the WTO court of appeal (Appellate Body) upheld the original WTO ruling that a US trade embargo on shrimps caught without adequate protection to endangered turtles was illegal. Some of the affected countries - India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand - had brought the case.
This WTO appeal court ruling still denies individual countries the right to restrict trade even when species, in this case sea turtles, are endangered and the complainant countries have signed international environmental agreements to protect them, said Charles Arden-Clarke, Head of WWF International's Trade and Investment Unit . Trade sanctions should be available as a last resort to prevent irreversible environmental damage.
There were, however, some elements in the Appellate Body ruling that should make the WTO more sensitive to environmental concerns.
The Appellate Body recognized the value of unsolicited legal submissions (amicus briefs) from non-governmental organisations, said Mr Arden-Clarke. However, whether the WTO actually responds to those concerns will still depend on its rules and their interpretation.
While the Appellate Body moved some way to recognizing environmental concerns, it also erected new and demanding set of tests which in this case led the court to conclude that the trade restriction was arbitrary and unjustifiable.
The WTO keeps moving the goalposts, creating new tests at every turn for any country wishing to prevent environmental damage associated with international trade, added Mr Arden-Clarke. What is needed is reform of basic WTO rules to remove uncertainty for environmental policy makers, and dispel fears that environment could be used for protectionist purposes.
That reform should also address the failings of WTO dispute panels themselves. In this case, as in other recent ones, the Appellate Body has had to overturn major elements of a panel's ruling, solely on legal grounds.
This appeal court ruling shows that fundamental reform of WTO rules is the only viable option to address these internal contradictions, and safeguard the global environment, said Mr Arden-Clarke.