WTO must clarify its role in environmental agreements says WWF

Posted on 19 March 2002

Negotiations in the WTO on Multilateral Environmental Agreements are crucial for both human health and the environment.
Gland, Switzerland - As governments kick-off negotiations in Geneva on the relationship between the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), WWF, the conservation organization has warned that unless the WTO recognises appropriate trade measures within MEAs, there could be serious consequences for human health and the environment.

In an open letter to government delegations, WWF has underlined that trade measures are crucial to some of the 200 MEAs currently in existence. They are used to ensure effective implementation of the biodiversity conservation, halt global warming, and prevent the spread of toxic pollutants. Within these agreements, trade measures allow regulation of trade in environmentally harmful products and can be used to remove the economic incentives that encourage environmental destruction. They are also important in encouraging wide membership of the MEAs. WWF therefore believes that any outcome of WTO negotiations must avoid limiting the options of policy makers when negotiating environmental treaties.

"WTO rules are already being used to undermine multilateral solutions to global environmental problems," said Aimee Gonzales, WWF's Senior Policy Advisor on trade issues. "Many governments are being schizophrenic about this whole thing - negotiating an environmental treaty through one Ministry, and undermining that same deal through the trade ministry. It is time that they clarify the links between MEAs and the WTO."

Lack of cooperation between trade and environment officials both at national and international levels is one key issue that WWF believes must be resolved during the negotiating process. Key to this is developing an enhanced cooperation between MEA Secretariats, UNEP and the WTO. As a first step in this process, both UNEP and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) should be admitted to the WTO as observers.

In its letter, WWF also underlines that the economic implications of implementing certain MEAs is growing. As in the case of the Montreal Protocol, trade measures are often used by MEAs to discourage the practice of 'free riding' or benefiting from the efforts of other countries. While some governments have tried to argue that such trade measures involving non-parties to an MEA are not compatible with WTO rules, WWF believes that it is vital for the negotiations to clarify this in the negotiations and conclude that they are.

By using 'WTO savings clauses', countries that support ineffectual MEAs are weakening the provisions of the environmental agreements while they are being negotiated, and preventing their effective implementation once they are in force. WWF is calling on governments to clarify the uncertainty that still exists over whether trade measures taken in the context of MEAs are compatible with WTO rules.

"WWF believes that by clarifying the relationship between MEA trade measures and the WTO, WTO members will promote coherence among international rules and institutions and ensure that international trade and environmental laws develop in a mutually supportive way, thereby securing the joint contribution these systems can and must make to the overarching goal of sustainable development," Aimee Gonzales added.

For further information:
Kyla Evans, Head of Press WWF International, tel: +41 22 364 9550, email: kevans@wwfint.org