DIALOGUE ON PLASTICS POLLUTION AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE PLASTICS TRADE
Ambassador Matthew Wilson from Barbados, Chair of the meeting, reiterated the challenging nature of the battle against plastics pollution. He pointed out that the world currently has 170 trillion plastic particles floating in the ocean, and by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish. In response, the WTO has taken action through the work of the Dialogue, as shown in the recent draft statement, he said.
Australia, representing the coordinators, introduced draft one of the MC13 statement. It expands upon the initial “draft zero” and outlines shared principles and various concrete actions related to trade aimed at reducing plastics pollution. The list of actions, including annexes (with details still to be developed), aims to reflect the discussions held over the past two years and to provide the foundation for collective efforts in addressing the challenge of plastics pollution.
Ecuador, a coordinator of the Dialogue, stressed the need to address plastics pollution throughout its lifecycle. Ecuador highlighted the importance of increased collaboration and synergy between the Dialogue and other international processes. These include ongoing negotiations led by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC) aimed at completing its work by the end of 2024 towards an international legally binding treaty on plastics pollution. Additionally, it noted the work of the World Customs Organization on amending the Harmonized System (HS) for traded goods and the existing regulations and guidelines of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions.
China, another coordinator of the Dialogue, emphasized the significance of a MC13 Ministerial Statement in harnessing trade to combat global plastics pollution. China encouraged further synergy between the Dialogue and the INC process, including enhancing coherence by defining key concepts such as “harmful and unnecessary plastics”.
Many co-sponsors of the Dialogue commended the progress made in the draft statement. They also offered various suggestions to enhance the draft, emphasizing their varied interests, including in promoting trade measures that would support non-plastic substitutes and alternatives, facilitate technology transfer, provide capacity building and funding to assist least developed countries and small island developing countries, address cross-border waste management, and adopt a balanced approach to addressing environmental, social and health concerns.
Additionally, some delegates noted the upcoming INC negotiation meeting in November and stressed the WTO's unique position to contribute trade solutions to the process without precluding its outcomes. Several members shared the view that MC13 presented an excellent opportunity to send a strong signal to the INC and demonstrate the WTO's strong commitment to implementing a future binding agreement on plastics pollution.
Representatives from international organizations and civil society also provided feedback on the draft statement, preceding the co-sponsors' discussion, praising it as “commendable” work. They offered suggestions in various areas, notably adding a roadmap for future work, identifying specific products for trade reduction, securing a safe approach to plastics alternatives and substitutes to avoid solutions with regrettable consequences, addressing subsidies on plastics, and establishing a science-policy advisory panel to assess the safety of plastics substitutes.
In conclusion, the Chair expressed satisfaction with the feedback received during the meeting, affirming that it indicates the statement is on the right track, with expectations of more robust work ahead.
Coordinators said that the annexes in the draft statement will remain a living document subject to periodic updates. They are currently in the process of preparing a factual report based on two surveys: one focused on trade-related measures relevant to plastics pollution reduction and another assessing plastics-related Aid for Trade needs. Additionally, they plan to revise the draft statement based on the feedback received thus far. Once finalized, both documents will be circulated among members and stakeholders.
The next meeting is scheduled for 16-17 November, following the November INC negotiation meeting, to facilitate more informed deliberations on the path forward.
Currently, 76 WTO members are participating in the Plastics Pollution Dialogue. Additional information about the Dialogue can be found on its dedicated webpage here.