WTO Aims for Sustainable Development

DOHA, Qatar, November 14, 2001 (ENS) - After night-long talks to resolve key points of contention, trade ministers from 142 countries today struck a deal to launch a new round of world trade negotiations. Environmental issues dominated the closing hours of trade negotiations, and the ministerial statement emphasizes sustainable development, but some environmentalists are not convinced.

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WTO Director General Mike Moore (Photo courtesy WTO)
World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Mike Moore called the meeting a success. “I have been impressed by the readiness which so many ministers have shown to understand and accommodate the needs of others, and by the strength of the common determination to make the conference a success — not just for the sake of national interests, but very much because everybody appreciated the need to give a signal of confidence in this very difficult time of international uncertainty," he said.

This ministerial conference completed the WTO accession procedures for China and Chinese Taipei. Other new members include Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Jordan, Lithuania, Moldova and Oman, and 28 other nations have applied to join.

In their declaration issued today, the ministers "strongly reaffirm" their commitment "to the objective of sustainable development."

The ministers stated their conviction that "the aims of upholding and safeguarding an open and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system, and acting for the protection of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development can and must be mutually supportive."

According to the declaration, the WTO will not prevent any country from taking measures for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, or of the environment at the levels it considers appropriate," subject to the requirement that these measures not be used as an "arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on international trade..."

The ministers said they welcome the WTO´s continued cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme and other inter-governmental environmental organizations. "We encourage efforts to promote cooperation between the WTO and relevant international environmental and developmental organizations, especially in the lead-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002," they declared.

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Basket of fish pulled from the Indian Ocean (Photo by Jose Cort courtesy NOAA)
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says trade ministers took a critical step towards eliminating billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies that drive the depletion of the world's fish stocks. The Doha declaration commits WTO members to negotiate new rules to address subsidies to the fishing industry, and emphasises the environmental orientation of the negotiations.

"The WTO decision to open negotiations on fishing subsidies is very good news for the world's fisheries and for the communities that depend on them," said David Schorr, Director of WWF's Sustainable Commerce Programme. "For the first time, governments have recognized the responsibility of the WTO to do its part in promoting the health of a vital natural resource."

But Greenpeace, which has a ship in Doha, was not satisfied that the ministerial statements will in fact yield environmental protection. Activists inside the meeting unfurled banners calling for a fundamental transformation of trade rules.

“This meeting has failed to produce a vision for sustainable development and the protection of the environment” said Greenpeace International political director Remi Parmentier, speaking from the meeting site. “The WTO has two crises of confidence - opposition from the outside world to this trade liberalization agenda, and an internal crisis of dissent among WTO member countries.”

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The Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior moored off Doha (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
Parmentier called for an international conference to revise the relationship between the WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and environmental protection.

The U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says full participation in the global economy and trading system is a precondition for long term growth of developing countries. The single most important contribution of new negotiations to poverty alleviation would likely be the reduction of tariffs on agriculture products, the U.S. said in a statement.

Welcoming the agreement, UK Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said, "This historic deal - together with China and Taiwan's accession to the WTO - gives a badly needed boost to world economic confidence.

"Coming just a day after the advances in Afghanistan, it signals the determination of the world community to fight terror with trade, as well as arms."

Hewitt said, "Every traveller enjoys duty-free shopping. The aim of these negotiations is to make duty-free trade the norm, bringing the benefits of duty-free to every high street, souk and bazaar around the globe."

In a side agreeement, the WTO member countries said public health protection need not be hampered by the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) which protects the intellectual property rights of the pharmaeutical companies.

Recognizing that intellectual property protection is important for the development of new medicines, the WTO members also recognize the concerns about its effects on prices. The TRIPS Agreement can and should be interpreted and implemented "to promote access to medicines for all."

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Tomatoes ripen at a roadside market near Mbarara in southwestern Uganda. (Photo by K Dunn courtesy FAO )
At the WTO Ministerial Conference, five international organizations issued a joint statement committing themselves to help developing countries' participate more fully in setting and meeting international norms for sanitary and phytosanitary measures - food safety and animal and plant health.

The five organizations are the WTO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Animal Health Organization (Office International des Epizooties or OIE), the World Health Organization, and the World Bank.

Developing countries say they face problems in exporting food products in particular both because they have difficulty meeting standards in importing countries and because they are unable to participate fully in developing internationally agreed standards.

The joint action by these five organizations is designed to address this problem by assisting developing countries in the establishment and implementation of appropriate food safety and animal and plant health measures.

But Greenpeace Canada campaigns director Jo Dufay said in Doha, “Every step of progress on the environment is countered by contradictory language or harmful measures. They have agreed to study the relationship between trade rules and the environment, but also said that WTO rules won’t change.”