Recycling 1 million tonnes of plastic is equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the road in terms of carbon emissions, the European Union said in presenting the plastics strategy adopted by the European Commission on 16 January 2018. In addition to climate change impacts, there were also the problems of marine litter and microplastics pollution, the EU noted. While the initiative was not against plastics, the EU said it was important to tackle the material's unsustainable use.

The EU strategy rests on four pillars, which are improving the economics and quality of plastics recycling, curbing plastic waste and littering, driving investments and innovation towards circular solutions, and harnessing global action, the delegate said. It includes a list of 39 EU actions, such as developing standards for recycled plastics and new guidelines for sorting waste.

Following the EU's intervention, several members agreed that plastics pollution was a serious problem with transboundary implications. The need for transparency, experience sharing and multi-pronged strategies was noted. Some members shared other domestic and international initiatives relating to the issue. A representative from the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) conventions further reported on preparations to amend certain annexes of the BRS conventions to allow for improved management of plastic waste.

Beyond the management of plastic waste, WTO members also heard about the broader concept of the circular economy.  Trade has a role to play in the transition to resource-efficient economies, a representative from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development  (OECD) said in a separate presentation. Trade can help create better value chains of recycling by expanding these across borders. Trade also allows for the exchange of environmental goods and services, the OECD representative said. Governments will have to ensure that circular economy policies and trade policies reinforce each other, he said.

Blue economy

The committee took up presentations about the sustainable use of marine resources. Norway briefed members on efforts to address the over-exploitation of the world's oceans. It introduced the Norwegian Ocean Strategy and reported on the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Nairobi in November. Norway emphasized the importance of international cooperation for such efforts.

A representative from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) underlined the economic importance of ocean resources, particularly fish and fish products, as well as the necessity for their sustainable harvest. Fisheries provide protein for the world's population, many in the poorest countries, the FAO representative said. It is also an important source of employment. However, the percentage of fish stocks exploited within biologically sustainable levels has fallen to 66.9% in 2015 from 90% in 1974 according to the 2018 FAO report "The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture".

Several members affirmed their support for the sustainable use of oceans and the integration of "blue economy" initiatives into national development strategies. The WTO can make a contribution through the negotiation of an agreement to discipline fisheries subsidies, they said.

Other topics

New Zealand and Switzerland on behalf of the Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform updated members on their efforts to rationalize and phase out fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, reiterating that the WTO had a role to play as a forum for advancing negotiations on subsidy disciplines. In response, some delegations said they supported discussing the issue in the committee while several others highlighted that fossil fuel subsidy reforms had no linkage to the WTO and were of the view that the WTO was not the appropriate venue to discuss such matters.

 The WTO Secretariat introduced the new online Environmental Database, which contains all environment-related notifications submitted by WTO members as well as environmental measures and policies mentioned in their Trade Policy Reviews.

Australia briefed members on the negotiations for the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA), noting that two years have lapsed since a EGA Ministerial Conference ended in 2016 without forging a deal to eliminate tariffs on certain environmental products. Several participants to the EGA negotiations said they remained fully committed and ready to engage when conditions are appropriate.

The committee also heard reports on New Zealand's Trade for All Agenda, the WTO-UN Environment high level leadership dialogue held during the WTO Public Forum in October 2018,  the WTO-UN Environment publication on "Making Trade Work for the Environment, Prosperity and Resilience" and updates from observer organizations.

Hong Kong, China Permanent Representative Irene Young presided over the meeting as the committee's interim chairperson following the departure of former committee chairperson Ambassador Sondang Anggraini (Indonesia).

Next meeting

The next committee meeting will be held in May 2019.




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