Some WTO members consider environmental reviews to be useful tools for
trade agreements. The purpose is to improve the ability of environmental
and trade policies to work together, and to identify actions that will
enhance positive environmental impacts and avoid negative ones.
In the WTO, the Committee on Trade and Environment started its work on
environmental reviews in 1996 under Item 2 “Environmental protection and
the trading system” of its work programme.
In 2001, the importance of environmental reviews in WTO trade
negotiations was confirmed in paragraph 6 of the
Doha Declaration. This reads: “We take note of the efforts by Members to
conduct national environmental assessments of trade policies on a
In Paragraph 33 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration Ministers “encourage
that expertise and experience be shared with Members wishing to perform
environmental reviews at the national level”. The continued work in the
committee is based on this.
The importance of reviews was also confirmed in the Johannesburg World
Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation of 2002.
Members agree that policies to promote trade and the environment should
support each other. They agree that exchanging information on the
methodology and implementation of national environmental reviews is
useful. They believe that technical assistance in this area is needed.
At the same time, they recognize that countries have different
approaches to environmental reviews, that conducting the reviews is
difficult and that the methods are still evolving.
that no member has the perfect tool for these reviews and that any tool
needs to be adapted to each particular situation.
Some developing country members have stressed that there should be no
obligation on national authorities to conduct environmental reviews —
the reviews should be voluntary. They say the reviews should also be
consistent with a country’s priorities and that the developing
countries’ task should not be made more onerous by requiring countries
to use the same or similar procedures (the procedures should not be
“harmonized”). That would mean that the reviews must be carried out in
the light of the requirements of each country, its capability and
resources, its level of development, its expertise and the local
One view is that environmental reviews should be a means to identify the
difficulties that developing countries face so as to overcome these
difficulties and promote sustainable development: the aim has to be to
bring environmental, economical and social benefits to all countries.
What if a review shows that trade liberalization could cause some damage
to the environment? One view is that the country should examine how to
avoid that by finding policies that would make the trade and
environmental aspects work together without causing harm to each other.
Another view is that environmental reviews should not be binding on
decision-makers. Rather, it should be a tool offering self-assessment as
a means to make policies more coherent. Governments would also be able
to act outside the trade agreement in order to mitigate the
environmental impact. In some cases reassessment might be needed to work
out longer term policies — these would take into account the economic
valuation of the environmental degradation and the expected economic
benefits of trade liberalization.
Information before the CTE
A WTO Secretariat note produced in 2000, “Environmental
(Sustainability) Assessments of Trade Liberalization Agreements at the
National Level”, noted that the purpose of
assessing before an agreement takes effect is to reinforce potential
positive environmental effects or prevent potential negative ones.
Assessing afterwards can be used to consider whether there might be a
need for additional adjustments to policy to mitigate the environmental
impact. The paper also considers:
Why a country chooses to undertake an assessment
What is assessed
How to establish the link between the effects of trade liberalization
and environmental impacts
In 2002, the Secretariat circulated another note, this time on the
effects on the environment of liberalizing services trade — “Discussing
Paper on the Environmental Effects of Services Trade Liberalization”).
This paper has been discussed under Items 6 (“environment and trade
liberalization”) and 9 (“services”) of the Trade and Environment
Committee’s agenda. It looks at three selected areas (tourism, land
freight transport and environmental services) and briefly considers how
to assess the environmental effects of liberalizing services trade.
The paper highlights the importance of finding methods that will help
policy-makers to focus on the most significant environmental effects and
to find ways of dealing with them — particularly policy-makers with
The Doha Declaration (Paragraph 33) asked members to share their
experiences with each other. Several have described the environmental
reviews, environmental assessments or sustainability impact assessments
of the WTO negotiations and other major trade agreements.
For instance, among WTO members, the
European Union carries out
sustainability impact assessments (SIAs) on trade negotiations;
Canada has done environmental
assessments (EAs) of the WTO negotiation; and the
US has conducted an
environmental review (ER) of the Doha Development Agenda
Organizations that are observers in the Trade and Environment Committee
have also contributed. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
informed the CTE of its methods for environmental assessment of trade
liberalization, and the projects it has set up in countries to assess
the environmental effects of trade policies.
Most studies show how important it is for environment, trade, finance,
and other government officials to increase their coordination within the
In 2003, the Committee
reported on its work on sharing experiences to the Cancún Ministerial Conference.
Since then, members have continued to inform the committee of their
environmental reviews and related activities carried out at the national
These include seminars and conferences they have held to share expertise
and experience. Some examples:
an EU seminar in 2003 on “Sustainability Impact Assessment of Trade
Agreements: Making Trade Sustainable?”
a Canadian conference of the International Association of Impact
Assessment in 2004
an EU Conference on Impact Assessments in 2006.
In May 2007, with at view to facilitating the
experience sharing exercise, a note was prepared by the Secretariat
which lists the trade related environmental reviews which have been, or,
are being carried out (WT/CTE/W/245).
The document, following a brief description of the Committee's
discussions on environmental reviews in the context of Item 2 of its
work programme and subsequently of Paragraph 33 of the Doha Ministerial
Declaration, provides an illustrative list of the various trade related
impact assessments. These projects have been grouped under the heading
of multilateral trade liberalization initiatives, regional and bilateral
trade liberalization initiatives, and national projects. In October 2008, this list was
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shared experience of impact assessments