In the committee, WTO members exchange information on their policies; they also receive briefings from the committee’s observer organizations on developments in those organizations and under multilateral environmental agreements.
Although members welcomed the information provided in this meeting, some — particularly developing countries — asked how the increased use of environmental measures, such as environmental labelling, could be prevented from becoming unnecessary trade barriers.
Some also asked how these environmental requirements can help developed and least developed countries in particular supply exports for “global production value chains”, where products go through different stages of production in different countries.
Some countries and observer organizations also stressed the role of international trade in driving sustainable development and eliminating of poverty. They referred to the document produced at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 — the Rio+20 Outcome Declaration.
The range of requirements being developed around the world means that producers everywhere will have to comply with the various norms when entering markets, which vary from one country to another and which can sometimes be complex and costly.
The committee’s role on these issues was strengthened in the 2001 declaration from the Doha Ministerial Conference. WTO ministers instructed the committee, which consists of all WTO members, to pay particular attention to the effect of environmental measures on market access for developing and least developed countries in particular, the relevant provisions of the WTO’s intellectual property agreement, and labelling requirements for environmental purposes (paragraph 32). (The declaration also launched separate negotiations on trade and environment as part of the Doha Round.)
Information on green norms
France described its pilot project on informing consumers about the environmental impact of the goods they buy, through labels on the products. The project covers the whole of France but is voluntary. It aims to change production methods on products including detergents, clothing and food to more environment-friendly methods. The project includes measuring the effects of the products on the environment, based on internationally-agreed standards, so that companies can analyse the impact at various stages of production.
The results will be conveyed to the French Parliament, and members speaking in the committee asked to be updated.
Switzerland described its national plan for moving towards a green economy by providing consumers with better information on products and by screening the products better. Switzerland said the planned actions will not distort trade.
Meanwhile, experts in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are working on a new international standard designed to track how much water is consumed in producing goods and services, with the aim of reducing its unnecessary use. The norm would be based on the concept of a “water footprint”, similar to the idea of a “carbon footprint”. ISO reported on latest developments. An ISO working group is developing the standard, to be known as “ISO 14046, Environmental management — Water footprint — Principles, requirements and guidelines”, expected to be published by mid-2014.
Information from and about environmental agencies
The committee also heard the latest information from a number of secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements.
- Angola has become the 179th country to sign the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a representative from CITES told the meeting. She added that since Costa Rica recently accepted the Gaborone Amendment, the convention is now open to regional economic integration organizations.
- A Convention on Mercury containing some provisions related to trade was signed on 10 October 2013 in Minamata, Japan, to address the impact of mercury on the environment and public health, a representative from United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said.
- A representative from UNEP on behalf of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), reported, among other things, on the continuing implementation issues of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020.
Finally, the WTO Secretariat introduced the latest revision of an official document providing information on some of the multilateral environmental agreements that have an impact on trade, and describing their objectives, formation, signatories, decision-making and other aspects of their work. The document (number WT/CTE/W/160/Rev.6 or TN/TE/S/5/Rev.4), is known as the “Matrix on Trade-Related Measures Pursuant to Selected Multilateral Environmental Agreements“.