WTO admits trade damages the environment

Posted on 13 October 1999

WWF welcomes a WTO Secretariat report that acknowledges trade damages the environment.
Gland, Switzerland - WWF, the conservation organization, today welcomed a forthcoming WTO Secretariat report, in which for the first time it acknowledges that trade damages the environment. However, WWF regretted that the WTO did not clearly accept its responsibility to help resolve this problem.

"The WTO has taken a positive step forward in diagnosing the clash between trade and the environment, but it has failed to acknowledge that some of its rules are part of the problem," said Charles Arden-Clarke, Head of WWF's Trade and Investment Unit, about the report to be released tomorrow. "It is vital that this new candour about conflicts between trade and environmental policy tools stimulate WTO member countries to reform the agreement accordingly."

In its report, the WTO admits that expanding trade often creates greater pollution (p.3), that increased global competition is stopping environmental regulation (p.59), and that increased wealth does not necessarily lead to environmental protection. The report accepts that trade can produce irreversible environmental damage, including toxic contamination, extinction and soil damage (p.38) and that the global economy must operate inside environmental limits if it is to be sustainable (p. 7).

WWF has been making these arguments for a number of years, and is campaigning for the WTO to be reformed to ensure that WTO rules enhance rather than damage the quality of the global environment. WWF also wants WTO members to commit themselves to carrying out environmental assessments of their trade policies and WTO agreements.

"The WTO argues that to resolve the conflict between trade and the environment, international regulations protecting the environment must be strengthened," added Mr. Arden-Clarke. "It highlights the importance of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) in this respect, but fails to acknowledge that its own rules are currently undermining these agreements."

The WTO report also underestimates some of the destructive impacts of trade. It focuses on pollution and virtually excludes the responsibility of expanding trade for the over-consumption of natural resources. Increased trade in natural resources is one of the biggest driving forces in deforestation, soil degradation, water overuse, marine pollution and ultimately species extinction.

The other obvious lesson omitted from the WTO report is that WTO members must strengthen environmental regulation world-wide, before charging ahead with greater trade liberalisation. It is vital that trade ministries cooperate fully with environment ministries, and the WTO with other international bodies such as the UN Environment Programme, to achieve the policy coherence necessary to make trade support sustainable development.

For further information:
Charles Arden-Clarke: tel:+41 22 364 90 01, email: cardenclarke@wwfnet.org
Kyla Evans: tel+41 22 364 95 50, email: kevans@wwfnet.org