The World Trade Organization is an international organization designed to manage and liberalize international trade. The WTO regulates the rules of trade between nations at a global level. While the WTO
has been successful in promoting globalization, it has failed to recognize environmental concerns. The WTO needs to enforce pro-environment regulations at a global level. Without full participation from each nation laws will have a disproportionate impact on trade. If we continue operating without acknowledging the environment, the long term effects on the environment will be severe. The issue of environmental protection cannot continue to be ignored. In the absence of proper environmental regulation and resource management, increased trade might cause so much adverse damage that the gains from trade would be less than the environmental costs.
How is the WTO harming the environment?
While it can be argued that most trade causes little adverse impact on the environment, the fact is that when trade does cause harm, the WTO does nothing about it. The turtle-safe shrimp case provides evidence that the World Trade Agreement is interpreted narrowly in an effort to bar any policy that has negative affects on trade. In 1989 the United States put forth an effort to protect seven species of endangered sea turtles from the ‘shrimping’ industry. They required domestic shrimpers to use protective technology called Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which allowed turtles to escape from the shrimp nets. Congress banned the importation of shrimp caught by foreign shrimpers who refused to use TEDs. This action did not sit well with non-conforming countries. In 1996 Thailand, Malaysia, India, and Pakistan filed a complaint against the United States claiming that “the U.S. Turtle Shrimp Law violated international trade law by barring the importation of their shrimp and shrimp products.” The WTO ruled in 1998 against the United States asserting trade discrimination. This is a situation where the WTO could have stepped in and backed the United States, enforcing the use of TEDs, rather than finding them at fault for trying to save an endangered species.
What is/has been done to address this problem?
The WTO has had a long history of attempting to accommodate environmental concerns. In 1971, the WTO (who at this time was known as the GATT) created a division on Environmental Measures and International Trade (EMIT). This party failed miserably, which is not surprising considering their first meeting was held in 1991, 20 years after the group was created. After the failure of EMIT, the Commission on Trade and the Environment (CTE) was formed in 1994. The committee’s mandate is broad, promising to “identify the relationship between trade measures and environmental measures in order to promote sustainable development” as well as “make appropriate recommendations on whether any modifications of the provisions of the multilateral trading system are required, compatible with the open, equitable and non-discriminatory nature of the system ” (WTO). The WTO has only recently started to look at the effects of trade and the environment. These organizations are virtually useless as long as the WTO continues to prioritize trade over the environment.
Who should be held responsible?
In order for divisions like the EMIT and the CTE to be effective, the WTO needs to enforce specific rules in the interest of the environment. I agree with Alison Sadvari, if this issue is not handled, it will have a negative impact on the world’s natural resources, which in turn will have a negative impact on trade. Individual governments will continue to be ineffective in their attempts to combat this problem because policies must be implemented without discrimination. For this reason, the WTO needs to determine what the major issues surrounding this topic are and enforce laws at a global level. The WTO has the power to enforce trade laws as they are “responsible for negotiating and implementing new trade agreements, and is in charge of policing member countries’ adherence to all the WTO agreements” . However, the WTO is more concerned with the negative effect environmental action will have on trade than they are with the effect trade has on the environment. A critic of the WTO wrote:
“…the rules that the WTO is there to enforce are remarkably few – and they have almost nothing to do with looking after the long term interests of stakeholders, the natural environment or those who will inherit the planet in future generations” .
The first step in creating a national environmental law needs to begin with the WTO’s recognition of the problem. They have been going through the motions for years without taking affirmative action. By dealing forthrightly with these issues, the WTO can improve public support for freer trade and enhance its own status as a coherent and trustworthy instrument for global economic governance. Because the WTO holds the power to enforce change, the continuous pressure from activists will eventually force them into enacting environmental protection laws, regardless of the impact it has on trade.
1. “World Trade Organization.” Wikipedia. 20 Apr 2007
2. Charnovitz, Steve. “Addressing Environmental and Labor Issues in the World Trade Organization.” Trade & Global Markets. 1 Nov 1999. Progressive Policy Institute. 20 Apr 2007
3. “The WTO, the Environment and Sustainable Development.” The Citizens’ Guide to Trade, Environment and Sustainability. 24 Jan 2001. Friends of the Earth. 20 Apr 2007
4. “Items on the CTE’s Work Programme.” WTO. 20 Apr 2007
5. “Impacts of WTO on the Environment, Cultures and Indigenous Peoples.” 29 Nov 1999. 20 Apr 2007