TRADE AND ENVIRONMENT

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China and Fiji provided an update on members' discussions about how the WTO can support global efforts against plastic pollution. Fiji recalled that informal consultations were held in February for plans to launch a WTO plastics initiative at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), which could include information sharing, cooperation on product standards, promotion of plastic substitutes, and technology transfer. However, MC12, originally scheduled for 8-11 June 2020 in Kazakhstan, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. China said it would continue to reach out to all interested members.

Members also heard updates on other initiatives on plastic pollution and the circular economy, such as Norway's support for forging a comprehensive global agreement to combat marine plastic litter by 2023, Canada's hosting of the World Circular Economy Forum in 2021 and the upcoming entry into force on 1 January of new rules that will govern international shipments of waste plastics among signatories of the Basel Convention. Many other members shared information on their own efforts to manage plastic pollution and expressed openness to exploring how the WTO can make a contribution.

The United States said the WTO's contribution in this area should focus on trade facilitation for recovering and reusing recyclable materials (also known as reverse supply chains). The US noted its November 2019 submission where it suggested that the Committee draw on the previous work of global value chains and trade facilitation to promote reverse supply chains. It plans to organize a workshop as part of the next Committee meeting to build on this submission, the US said.

The Russian Federation presented its national project “Ecology”, which it said aims to decrease air pollution in industrial centres, preserve biodiversity, form a comprehensive system for solid waste management, restore water resources and sustainably manage forest resources. In addition, the government aims to implement the best available technologies and modernize Russian industry.

Resumption of work

Members were briefed on the resumption of work on other trade and environment initiatives, which had been disrupted by COVID-19 containment measures.

Costa Rica elaborated on the plans of a group of members called the Friends Advancing Sustainable Trade (FAST Group) for a joint statement on trade and environmental sustainability. It noted that while the declaration was originally intended to be presented at MC12 last June in Nur-Sultan, time cannot be wasted and the group still aims to launch an informal working group promptly as a complement to the work of the Committee on Trade and Environment. The informal working group could host discussions on topics such as climate change, the circular economy, fossil fuel subsidies reform, plastic pollution, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Costa Rica added that the draft will need to be adapted to reflect the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and that it hoped more members would support the declaration. It was also noted that the FAST Group is of the view that environmental sustainability should be one of the guiding principles of the wider reform of the WTO.

New Zealand reported that members supportive of fossil fuel subsidy reform are planning more events to reach out to other members in the autumn after a March seminar was cancelled due to COVID-19 disruptions. New Zealand noted that countries are launching subsidy programmes and this posed new opportunities for subsidy reform as part of a green recovery. A number of members expressed their support while some members were of the view that fossil fuel subsidy reform should not be taken up at the WTO.

New Zealand also noted that discussions among participants of the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS Initiative) had resumed virtually after the first round of negotiations had been postponed in March.

The United Kingdom briefed members on plans for the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow in light of the COVID-19 crisis, including the new dates for the event: 1-12 November 2021.

Barbados reported about the World Environment Day webinar convened by the Committee Chair  on 4 June 2020 which featured a discussion on how members can work towards sustainability objectives in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.

Observer organizations reported on other trade and environment developments as well.

The next meeting of the Committee is tentatively scheduled for the week of 16 November. A number of events on trade and sustainability are being planned to take place during the course of that week.

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