Dear Amb. Valencia, your excellencies, colleagues, thank you for inviting the Secretariat to provide a few opening remarks in this inaugural plenary meeting of the IDP.

I believe most of you know how dear the topic of plastics pollution is to my heart. Even before I became Deputy Director General of the WTO, back in my capacity as Ambassador, I liked to say that plastics pollution and the role of trade was one of my preferred topics.

So it really feels me with joy to see how far you have come since discussions started to pick up in the Committee on Trade and Environment back in 2019. The adoption of the Ministerial Statement on Plastic Pollution last December was a truly historic moment. And that came after only one year of the formal launch of the dialogue, during which you worked hard — with the indispensable support of stakeholders — to clearly define how trade, trade policy and the WTO intersect with domestic, regional and global efforts to address this challenge.

I'm glad to note how concrete and in some senses innovative the Ministerial Statement is in laying down the areas for further work and opportunities to advance your discussions towards concrete trade solutions.

The decision to adopt the Ministerial Statement despite the postponement of MC12 was not an easy one, I'm sure, and it probably involved a lot of work and missed hours of sleep for both Geneva and capital-based delegates. But it proved to be a very prescient and effective decision.

I can see this has allowed you to “hit the ground running” in 2022, with the adoption of an ambitious Plan, dividing the topics of work into three workstreams. I also note with great satisfaction that in your first meeting of the workstreams, stakeholders came extremely well prepared, laying the technical groundwork for your discussions under each workstream.

Even more satisfying is the fact that most showed they are ready to produce new research, specifically aimed at supporting the process of implementing the Ministerial Statement. Only science-based, factual, and accurate information on the role of trade to address this 21st Century challenge will enable you to advance in the speed and ambition laid out by your Ministers. The key role that relevant stakeholders play in your discussions is an important feature that should be cherished and carefully tended.

However, everybody knows that is only with those we love the most that we can be stricter and demand more of. So let me now turn to some hopefully constructive suggestions.

First, scientific information provided by stakeholders can only go so far. It will ultimately be up to you, delegations, to come up with the concrete proposals and solutions to implement the ambitious Ministerial Statement. As you work towards the “concrete, pragmatic, and effective outcomes” your ministers called for, there is good potential for low-hanging fruits and “early harvests” to be adopted when they are ripe — maybe even by MC12. This could help build momentum and trust in the process.

As you discussed last year — and is reflected in your 2021 Factual Report — many WTO Members are already using trade policy to address plastics pollution. A better, more complete picture of what IDP co-sponsors and other Members are doing could potentially help you identify commonalities and opportunities for further engagement and trade action.

There are also challenges and opportunities in the transparency of trade flows of plastics. Your Ministerial Statement identify the work of key institutions, including for instance the World Customs Organisation. Closer, more effective cooperation and coordination between the work of these different organisations could help, but also better coordination of domestic officials working in these different files.

My second point is a request. As you work towards such concrete outcomes, you should keep an open, focused and transparent dialogue. This approach has so far borne important fruits, with the IDP growing from 12 to 70 WTO Members in little more than one year. But you still should seek to enlarge the group further.

As you know, plastics pollution is a challenge that affects the environment and health of all, developed, developing and least-developed members, with those from vulnerable communities and small island developing states suffering particularly high costs. I'm certain that more WTO delegations are concerned and potentially ready to act on the topic — our Environmental Database and other studies show that clear trend. Your honest engagement, clarification and support for their participation in the process — especially for the smaller delegations — could help them feel confident in engaging more directly in the dialogue.

And here, you should continue to work closely with and report substantively to the Committee on Trade and Environment. As the multilateral forum that provided the basis for your dialogue, the CTE must continue to play this role of socialization and reflection of your advancements. It is in itself a particularly useful and in certain ways innovative WTO body which offers opportunities for a different type of constructive discussions among delegations aiming to find “mutually supportive” solutions for trade and environment.

This brings me to my third and final point. As you all know well, earlier this month, the fifth Session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly had their own historic moment in the fight against plastic pollution. The launch of ambitious negotiations towards a global agreement on plastic pollution is a key development for your own discussions here at the WTO.

Although the final statement itself does not mention trade, it is certain that the discussions in that forum — which will include the full life cycle of plastics — will and must impact how you see the role of trade as a solution to the challenge. As the famous quote from the Appellate Body goes, the WTO system is not in “clinical isolation” from what happens elsewhere.

The IDP is a rare occasion in which trade officials are in a certain sense ahead of the curve, already looking to better understand and act to ensure trade is part of the solution to a key environmental challenge instead of reflecting after a specific multilateral environmental agreement is adopted.

It is certainly reassuring and very welcome to see how deeply engaged our colleagues at UNEP and BRS Secretariats are with the IDP. Their joint communication from last year as well as recent declarations of appreciation to the IDP process and how it is mutually supportive and reinforcing to efforts under their own systems was and is going to continue to be pivotal.

Now it is the time for IDP co-sponsors to also ensure trade, trade policy and the WTO are equally well understood and appreciated in the UNEA process. This can start by ensuring coherence with domestic authorities responsible for the discussions in UNEA. But it can also go further, with constructive contributions to and engagement with the process, as appropriate.

From the Secretariat side I can assure you we will continue supporting you in every way we can, including building on our very good and effective relationship with the UNEP, BRS, WCO, UNCTAD and other Secretariats of relevant international organisations as well as other stakeholders.

So, I look forward to hearing your views and discussions today on how best to implement the ambitious political guidance provided by your Ministers last December. I hope you have a very constructive meeting.




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