Information about the organization
THE 10 MISUNDERSTANDINGS: 4. anti-green?
In the WTO, commercial interests do NOT take priority over environmental protection

Many provisions take environmental concerns specifically into account.

1. WTO dictates?
Blindly for trade?
Ignores development?
4. Anti-green?
5. Anti-health?
Wrecks jobs?
Small left out?
Tool of lobbies?
Weak forced to join?

See also:
The WTO in Brief
10 benefits
Understanding the WTO

A range of provisions on environmental protection
The preamble of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization includes among its objectives, optimal use of the world’s resources, sustainable development and environmental protection.

This is backed up in concrete terms by a range of provisions in the WTO’s rules. Among the most important are umbrella clauses (such as Article 20 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) which allow countries to take actions to protect human, animal or plant life or health, and to conserve exhaustible natural resources.

Beyond the broad principles, specific agreements on specific subjects also take environmental concerns into account. Subsidies are permitted for environmental protection. Environmental objectives are recognized specifically in the WTO agreements dealing with product standards, food safety, intellectual property protection, etc.

In addition, the system and its rules can help countries allocate scarce resources more efficiently and less wastefully. For example, negotiations have led to reductions in industrial and agricultural subsidies, which in turn reduce wasteful over-production.

A WTO ruling on a dispute about shrimp imports and the protection of sea turtles has reinforced these principles. WTO members can, should and do take measures to protect endangered species and to protect the environment in other ways, the report says. Another ruling upheld a ban on asbestos products on the grounds that WTO agreements give priority to health and safety over trade.

What’s important in the WTO’s rules is that measures taken to protect the environment must not be unfair. For example, they must not discriminate. You cannot be lenient with your own producers and at the same time be strict with foreign goods and services. Nor can you discriminate between different trading partners. This point was also reinforced in the recent dispute ruling on shrimps and turtles, and an earlier one on gasoline.

Also important is the fact that it’s not the WTO’s job to set the international rules for environmental protection. That’s the task of the environmental agencies and conventions.

An overlap does exist between environmental agreements and the WTO — on trade actions (such as sanctions or other import restrictions) taken to enforce an agreement. So far there has been no conflict between the WTO’s agreements and the international environmental agreements.

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