November 12, 2002 – As governments meet today in Geneva to discuss the relationship of global environmental agreements with World Trade Organisation rules (WTO)(1), Friends of the Earth Europe called on the EU to ensure that current negotiations will in no way undermine the implementation and further development of environmental treaties such as the Biosafety and Kyoto Protocol. Instead governments should reaffirm the authority and autonomy of global environmental treaties, make WTO rules compatible with sustainable development and resolve the overarching governance imbalance between multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and the multilateral trading system, the environmental pressure group said today.

Following the EU’s push to launch negotiations at the last WTO Ministerial in November 2001 in Doha (2) on the relationship between global environment and trade rules, perspectives for a positive outcome for the environment increasingly look dim. The EU would like to see an initial agreement at the next WTO Ministerial in Cancun in September 2003.

However, recent talks at the WTO have raised serious concerns among civil society groups, including FoEE: instead of ensuring a positive outcome for MEAs, negotiations threaten to undermine MEAs, with some countries suggesting a WTO screen test for trade measures of environmental agreements, FoEE warned today.

In addition, many civil society groups have been disappointed by the EU’s position at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in September 2002. Despite worldwide pressure from civil society groups (2), governments made no progress towards protecting the status of MEAs versus trade rules. In one of the WSSD’s most significant negotiating battles, a number of countries (notably Ethiopia, Norway, some Carribean countries and Switzerland, but not the EU) supported by a global network of NGOs, succeeded in preventing the retention of text that would “ensure WTO consistency” in the relationship between trade, environment and development. (3) Nevertheless, governments failed to secure the status and autonomy of MEAs specifically, leaving negotiations on this issue to the WTO. (4)

Alexandra Wandel of FoEE commented:

”The EU will come to Geneva today with a proposal (5) to grant secretariats of global environmental treaties observer status to the WTO. While this will help open the door for more external transparency and openness in the WTO, it is not sufficient to resolve the overarching governance imbalance between multilateral environmental agreements and the multilateral trading system. If the EU is truly committed to sustainable development, it cannot allow that trade officials start questioning the status of environmental treaties in the WTO. Environmental treaties need to be reaffirmed and further strengthened, not weakened.”

In light of today’s meeting, FoEE has presented key concerns and demands to EU trade and environment officials, see ‘After Doha and Johannesburg: Dispute over Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and Trade Rules: What Next?’, FoEE commentary on the current EC position,
Alexandra Wandel, +49 172 748 39 53 (mobile)

(1) Today governments meet in a special session of the Committee on Trade and Environment of the WTO in Geneva where the relationship of MEAs and trade rules, specifically information exchange and observer status between MEAs and the WTO will be discussed.

(2) There are around 20 global environmental treaties with trade provisions such as the Kyoto and Biosafety Protocol. With some governments arguing that there is potential conflict between trade and environmental rules governments in Doha agreed to negotiate on 1) the relationship between WTO rules and specific trade obligations of MEAs 2) the granting of criteria for observer status of MEAs.

2) See International Civil Society Statement signed by more than 180 groups from 57 countries: Earth Summit must agree that the WTO rules will respect Multilateral Environmental Agreements

3) WSSD Plan of Implementation, para 91.

4) WSSD, Plan of Implementation: para 92 says: Promote mutual supportiveness between the multilateral trading system and the multilateral environmental agreements, consistent with sustainable development goals, in support of the work programme agreed through WTO, while recognizing the importance of maintaining the integrity of both sets of instruments.

5) EC proposal to the WTO: DDA paragraph 31 (ii), MEAs: information exchange and observer status of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) to the WTO. In March 2002 the EC has also submitted ‘MEAs: Implementation of the Doha Development Agenda.