Does trade liberalization contribute to or hinder environmental protection? The Committee on Trade and the Environment is currently analysing the link between trade liberalisation (including the Uruguay Round commitments) and environmental protection. Members affirm that the removal of trade restrictions and distortions can bring benefits to both the multilateral trading system and the environment. Further work is planned. If a country believes that another country`s trade harms the environment, what can it do? Can it restrict trade from other countries? If so, under what circumstances? There is currently no definitive legal interpretation, mainly because the issues have not yet been considered in a dispute inside or outside the WTO. But the combined outcome of WTO trade agreements and environmental agreements outside the WTO suggests that, like non-discrimination, it is an important principle of the WTO. In this regard, WTO Members should provide as much information as possible on the environmental policies they adopt or the measures they take where they may have a significant impact on trade. They should do so by informing the WTO, but the task should not be a heavier burden than is normally required for other policies affecting trade. More generally, WTO Members are convinced that an open, equitable and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system can make an important contribution to national and international efforts to better protect and conserve environmental resources and promote sustainable development. This was recognized in the outcomes of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio (Earth Summit) and its successor in 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.
WTO and GATT rules may restrict participation in multilateral environmental agreements. 4. What happens if the other country has not signed? Here, the situation is unclear and is the subject of debate. Some environmental agreements stipulate that countries that have signed the agreement should also apply the agreement to goods and services of countries that have not signed it. The question of whether this would violate the WTO agreements has not yet been examined, as so far no such dispute has been brought before the WTO. One proposed way to clarify the situation would be to rewrite the rules to clarify that countries can cite an environmental agreement in certain circumstances if they take measures that affect the trade of a country that has not signed. Critics say it would allow some countries to impose their environmental standards on others. In short, the WTO Committee affirms that the WTO`s core principles of non-discrimination and transparency do not conflict with the trade measures necessary to protect the environment, including those taken under environmental agreements.
It also notes that the clauses of the goods, services and intellectual property agreements allow governments to prioritize their national environmental policies. As part of the Doha Development Agenda, the Standing Committee is also examining the impact of environmental measures on market access, the Agreement on Intellectual Property and Biodiversity and labelling for environmental purposes. This is a concern of a number of developing countries who fear that certain hazardous or toxic products may be exported to their markets without being fully informed of the environmental or health hazards that the products may pose. Developing countries want to be fully informed so that they can decide whether to import them or not. Since the beginning of the negotiations, discussions have focused on the scope of the negotiating mandate (including the definition of specific trade commitments) and on the possible outcomes of the negotiations. At the same time, Members have also begun to share their national experiences in negotiating and implementing trade measures under multilateral environmental agreements at the national level. The Committee has broad responsibility covering all areas of the multilateral trading system for goods, services and intellectual property. Its task is to examine the relationship between trade and the environment and to make recommendations on changes that may be needed in trade agreements. The labelling of environmentally friendly products is an important instrument of environmental policy.
For the WTO, the crucial point is that labelling requirements and practices should not discriminate between trading partners (most-favoured-nation treatment should apply) or between domestically produced goods or services and imports (national treatment). There are currently more than 250 multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) dealing with various environmental issues. About 20 of them contain provisions that can affect trade. They may include, for example, measures prohibiting trade in certain species or products or allowing countries to restrict trade in certain circumstances. There are currently about 200 international agreements (outside the WTO) dealing with various environmental issues. They are called multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). What was the rationale for this decision? If the U.S. arguments were accepted, each country could ban the import of a product from another country simply because the exporting country has different environmental, health and social policies than its own. This would open the way virtually open for any country to unilaterally apply trade restrictions, not only to enforce its own laws at the national level, but also to impose its own standards on other countries. The door would be open to a possible flood of protectionist abuses. This would run counter to the main objective of the multilateral trading system, which would be to ensure predictability through trade rules. Technical barriers to trade (i.e.
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