DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL JEAN-MARIE PAUGAM

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Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, online participants: Welcome to the WTO.

I would like thank the four co-organizers — the Governments of Germany, Ecuador, Ghana and Viet Nam — for inviting the WTO to speak at the opening of your Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution.

We are very pleased to have made the meeting rooms available at the WTO available to you. You may be aware that our building was once the historic headquarters of the International Labour Organization. The WTO is an economic organization. You have come here to talk about the environment. We therefore have all the ingredients for sustainable development to inspire your work.

Through this material support for the organization of your work, we also wanted to express the importance of dialogue and mutual support between trade and environmental actors.

Trade and environmental issues are often approached separately and “in silos”. We believe that extensive dialogue between the “communities” — that is, representatives of trade and environmental agencies — is needed to address the key challenges of the 21st century we are facing. Your presence on the premises of the WTO will, hopefully, provide us with an opportunity to reflect on the role that trade could play in promoting a circular and more sustainable plastic economy.

In this regard, I would like to say a word about how the topic of plastic is now envisaged at our Organization.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: How do we look at plastic from a WTO perspective?

First, there is growing recognition that the way we produce, consume, and dispose of plastics causes significant damage to our environment and to our health. The accumulation of plastic pollution in the environment puts at risk the ocean and land resources that so many of our communities depend upon for their livelihoods.

Therefore, several of our Members consider that moving towards a more circular and sustainable economy is essential and that such an effort should include trade and trade in plastic as a central element.

This growing recognition has already led to some initiatives and some action. Back in November of last year, a group of WTO Members launched an Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade — or IDP. Since this launch, discussions on the topic have more than quadrupled at the WTO, seeking to identify key opportunities for enhanced trade cooperation to support domestic, regional, and global efforts against plastic pollution.

Participants in this dialogue are discussing multiple aspects of how trade intersects with the plastics pollution challenge: from “hidden flows” of trade in “embedded plastics” to concrete trade opportunities for sustainable plastics alternatives and secondary raw materials.

Second, the role that trade policy may have in fighting plastic pollution is becoming better understood. There are specific tools that trade policymakers may want to leverage to contribute to achieving global goals on plastics. These include, for instance:

  • lowering the trade barriers to environmental goods and services required for plastics circularity;
  • working on standards and regulations needed to ensure recyclability and compostability;
  • facilitating helping to build capacities for more circular supply chains;
  • and also exploring economic drivers of more sustainable plastics and alternatives to plastics, including the topic of harmful subsidies.

Third, it is clear that plastic is a global challenge. It is important to observe that, so far, the Informal Dialogue has gathered the support and participation of developed, developing and LDC Members alike, with a particular attention to Small Island Developing States. I would like to emphasize this dimension: within the WTO, the discussions on plastics can represent a bridge-building issue between developed and developing countries.

Finally, you know that the cause of ocean preservation today represents the number one priority of this Organization: we are striving to conclude the negotiations of fisheries subsidies which have been mandated by SDG 14.6. Of course, this negotiation has nothing to do with plastics per se, but it goes without saying that fighting plastic pollution is also vital for ocean health.

With this in mind, I am certain that some of our interested Members will follow closely your discussions today and your future work towards a possible international instrument on plastic.

Last but not the least, I just want you to be aware that the WTO has eliminated all plastics in its goblets and packaging in the cafeteria, so you can, without feeling guilty, drink water in our premises.

Thank you very much.

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