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[GreenYes] Environment & Trade

High Level Officials Link Environment and Trade

BERLIN, Germany, March 23, 2001 (ENS) - Ministers and officials from over 70 countries said here Thursday that environmental considerations need to be taken into account in the negotiation of new trade agreements. 

A new round of trade liberalization talks is expected to be launched at the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Qatar in November. 

The three day meeting in Berlin drew representatives from trade as well as environment ministries around the world. The delegates looked at the linkages between environment, sustainable development and trade policies which are often in conflict with one another. 

Construction begins on a new Metro rail line for Delhi against the background of polluted air. (Photo courtesy Delhi Metro Rail Corp.)
In India, for instance, trade liberalization in the form of tariff reduction and liberalization of foreign investment in the automotive sector helped increase automobile production by 136 percent. This contributed to a doubling of urban air pollution levels between 1991 and 1997. 
Participants noted the importance of environmental assessments of trade policies as a tool that can promote policy coherence between trade and environment ministries. 

The gathering was held under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. 

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's executive director, said that over the last 50 years, there has been a rapid expansion of world trade with the total value of global exports growing from $US350 billion in 1950 to almost $US5.5 trillion in 1999. 

"Trade liberalization contributes to economic growth, yet the benefits have not been fairly shared between countries and, in some cases, have led to greater environmental degradation and increased poverty," said Toepfer. 

"One part of the solution is for trade and environment policy makers to work together to develop mutually supportive trade and environment policies. Such collaboration will maximise the economic and ecological benefits that can be gained from trade liberalization," he said. 

German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin makes a point during the United Nations climate negotiations in November, 2000. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Jurgen Trittin, Germany's environment minister and a member of the Green Party, called for a "fresh start" at the Qatar meeting. 
He said, "globalization must be geared towards sustainable development." International trade policy must promote sustainable development and future WTO negotiations must give greater consideration to environmental issues, Trittin said. 

Discussions in Berlin focused on the methods for conducting environmental assessments of trade policies at the national level. 

Delegates examined the relationships between the WTO and Multilateral Environment Agreements such as the Montreal Protocol for controlling substances that deplete the ozone layer, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species - international treaties adhered to by most nations of the world. 

The meeting focused on concrete solutions to the complex trade and environment relationship. Stressing the important role that environmental assessments of trade policy can play, Toepfer said, "Only when you know the likely consequences of a policy decision can you take the necessary remedial action." 

Nile perch landing site near Kisumu, Kenya (Photo courtesy Megapesca)
Toepfer highlighted the example of Uganda, where trade liberalization in the form of industrial privatization, and tariff reduction on fishing technology has contributed to overfishing of the Nile Perch in Lake Victoria. 
"While export revenues increased, overexploitation led to a 20 percent reduction in catches and degradation of the lake ecosystem, including negative impacts on water quality," he said. 

In Argentina, trade liberalization and promotion of fisheries exports led to a five-fold growth in fish catches in the decade from 1985 to 1995. The profits that the fishing firms gained from this liberalization are estimated at $US1.6 billion. 

But the resulting depletion in stocks has ultimately led to a net direct cost of about US$500 million to the country, in terms of damage to the populations of the most exploited fish species. "One of the main messages coming out of the Earth Summit in 1992 was that trade and environment policy should be mutually supportive," said Toepfer. 

Trade and environment topics will be on the agenda of the 10 year followup to Rio, The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa next year. 

Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 231-1100/Fax (608) 233-0011

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