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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.