DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ALAN WM. WOLFF
Good morning. Let me start by thanking China and Fiji as convenors for inviting me to speak today.
The launch of this WTO informal dialogue on plastic pollution and environmentally sustainable plastic trade is a very timely and welcome initiative.
This year the WTO observes its 25th year anniversary. The WTO's 164 Members, with more acceding, share a common purpose — sustainable development — as enshrined in our founding agreement.
This is a good moment to deepen our dialogue on the role of trade to address pressing global challenges — certainly COVID-19 but also the scourge of plastic pollution.
I am pleased that several events — kicking-off with this informal dialogue — have been scheduled during the WTO Trade and Environment Week 2020 with a focus on plastic pollution.(1) This session has generated a lot of interest particularly as the WTO’s Members work towards a deliverable for the next WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12).
Building on the work at the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE)
The scope and role of trade, trade policies and the WTO to address plastic pollution and to promote environmentally sustainable plastic trade will be discussed in detail within this program.
There is already a good foundation to build on. Plastic pollution has been raised as an issue in every meeting of the CTE since November 2016. There have also been useful workshops and informal consultations both within and outside the WTO to raise awareness and support for action on this important topic.
Members have highlighted the cross-border implications of plastic pollution. Several have shared national experiences and information on trade measures adopted to address challenges and/or to promote sustainable plastics trade and the circular economy. Between 2009 and 2018, WTO Members notified 128 measures(2) affecting trade in plastics. These ranged from technical regulations for better waste management; import licensing schemes to regulate trade flows of certain plastics; to taxes, charges or bans on single-use plastic or plastic bags. Eighty per cent of the notified measures were from developing or least-developed countries. The diversity of approaches taken, and the range of trade measures adopted, suggest there is scope for coordinated global action to address the trade dimensions of plastic pollution.
Members continue to explore avenues, within the rules and mechanisms of the WTO, to support national, regional and global efforts. A revived Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) negotiation could contribute to better plastics trade by reducing trade barriers to environmentally sound plastic substitutes, as well as to equipment that helps to enhance waste management.
In addition, WTO Members could consider as part of their informal dialogue on plastics:
- Defining principles for effective and coherent trade-related measures that seek to tackle plastic pollution and waste in a WTO compatible manner.
- Setting targets for reducing trade in single-use, non-sustainable plastics in a WTO compatible manner.
- And establishing a monitoring mechanism to track the relevant trade-related measures and international trade in the relevant plastics in order to measure progress, examine what is working, and to identify policy innovations and best practices.
There have also been calls for greater support to capacity building — through Aid for Trade (A4T) and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) — to support a sustainable plastics circular economy.
International co-operation is necessary to foster policy coherence, to avoid a patchwork of trade measures and regulations.
There are already specific commitments and discussions ongoing to reduce plastic pollution through United Nations environmental processes and many Members are taking concrete steps at the national, regional and international levels. WTO Members at the CTE have benefitted from briefings from the secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions, UNCTAD, as well as UNEP on intergovernmental discussions in the UN Environment Assembly. Work of the ISO, WCO or others — such as the WEF and business community, academia and civil society — could also feed into this dialogue on sustainable plastic trade.
I commend the conveners of this session for launching this dialogue at the WTO. I hope that these discussions help bring sharper focus to the trade dimensions of this issue and help identify concrete actions that WTO members can collectively take to expand opportunities and overcome challenges related to achieving more environmentally sustainable plastics trade.
This initiative has already attracted attention and supporters who have joined this dialogue. I urge you to keep pressing ahead to bring more Members in to join this initiative. We, as the Secretariat, will fully support your collective decisions and endeavors.
Thank you and I wish you a productive session.
- https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/envir_e/tedweek2020_e.htm back to text
- WTO Environmental Database: www.wto.org/edb. back to text