Can green mean free?

Can green mean free? Developing countries also fear the huge costs associated with greener technologies, which will be unbearable by their domestic industries. It could make their goods uncompetitive in western markets. This unequivocal opposition to greening of trade is what brings the motley crew of poor countries together. “If there’s one thing that unites developing countries, it is opposition to negotiations on trade and environment,” said a developing country official before the meeting. “If the eu says it’s a deal-breaker, so be it. There are just too many people against it.” The Republican Bush administration shares these views (unlike the democrats), and would rather the green issues remain outside the purview of the wto , as they could harm the interests of us industry. For instance, us biotechnology firms stand to lose out, due to the wariness against genetically modified (gm) food.

Despite this opposition, the eu threat that it would negotiate on liberalising agricultural trade only if other wto members agree to talk on trade and environment, eventually worked. The final ministerial declaration controversially proposes negotiations to enhance “mutual supportiveness of trade and environment”. The declaration reiterates the eu demand seeking clarification on the relationship between the wto rules and “trade obligations set out in multilateral environmental agreements (meas)” instructs the wto ’s committee on trade and environment (cte) to give special attention to, among other things, ecolabelling suggests reduction and even elimination of trade barriers to environmental goods and services, a move that has been mutely welcomed by developing nations seeks to further strengthening the links between trade and environment by proposing negotiations on “procedures for regular information exchange” between the relevant mea bodies and their counterparts in the wto .

Indian industry minister Murasoli Maran dismissed the environment provisions in the declaration as “the price we have to pay for something in agriculture”. “We have marginally agreed on environment, which to a large extent, is a political acknowledgement of its importance rather than rebalancing of rights and obligations,” he said.

The environmental measures listed in the Doha declaration are not new. They have been part of the discussions at the cte for several years now, and have been discussed in by the wto’s dispute settlement mechanism before that. cte was set up in 1995 and is composed of all wto members and a number of observers from inter-governmental organizations. It functions with the understanding that “it does not modify the rights and obligations of any wto member under the wto agreements.” A ten-point agenda forms the basis of the committee’s work, which includes decisions on environment measures for trade, ecolabelling, environmentally unfriendly subsidies and intellectual property rights.

cte has not reached any conclusions due to the controversial nature of the issues. In 1996, it presented an inconclusive report at the Singapore ministerial due to the fact that its members had failed to reach agreements on most of the issues under discussion. The ministerial made note of the “the breadth and complexity of the issues covered by the committee” and “further work needs to be undertaken on all items of its agenda”. The committee was directed to carry on its work.

Although cte discussions have been unfruitful, the trade and environment debate is being addressed in other fora. As the pressure from Northern civil society to take on board environmental concerns increases, the dispute settlement mechanism has come out more and more in support of green issues. In a recent ruling on the shrimp-turtle case, a wto appellate body (ab) endorses a us ban on shrimp imports from countries that do not use turtle excluder devices to prevent harming sea turtles (see box: In through the backdoor). These judgments cannot be taken lightly, since they are making law by setting precedents.

Morevover, as the eu faces pressure from its civil society on the issue of genetically modified organisms (gmos), the Union is unlikely to let go of issues such as the primacy of public health, the precautionary principle, and process and production methods (ppms) (see box: In favour of health).

Developing country concerns over green protectionism are legitimate, but they cannot simply continue to oppose negotiations on the links between trade and environment

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