> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches

> 20 years of building pathways to sustainable development

> WTO and UNEP enhance dialogue on trade and environmental issues

> The WTO and United Nations Environment Programme

Executive Director Achim Steiner,

Executive Secretary Rolph Payet,

Secretary-General John Scanlon,

Mr Adrian Macey,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the WTO.

Environmental issues are woven into the history of this organisation.

They first came onto the agenda in the 1970s, when our predecessor the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was still in place.

And they were a key issue in the Uruguay Round, which eventually led to the creation of the WTO in 1995. 

The founders of the WTO saw clearly that the well-being of habitats, societies, and economies are not separate. Rather, they are very closely linked.

Their vision was of global cooperation in trade as a means to unleash growth, alleviate poverty, raise living standards and ensure full employment, while also protecting the environment.

Indeed, the principle of sustainable development is enshrined in page 1, paragraph 1 of our founding document, the Marrakesh Agreement.

In the 20 years since then, the connections between trade and the environment have grown significantly and, as a consequence, they have become an integral part of our work.

That's why, during this anniversary year, I thought it was crucial that we put a real focus on these issues.

And of course 2015 is a pivotal year for trade and the environment.

There are a series of major milestones this year — including the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris and the WTO's own Ministerial Conference in Nairobi — to be held back-to-back in December.

With this in mind, I would like to take the opportunity this morning to talk about the evolving links between these issues, and some of the practical ways that we can work together to respond to the challenges that they represent.

There are perhaps three major trends which have pushed environmental issues up the WTO's agenda. 

First, there has been a huge increase in international trade since the creation of the WTO.

Around 30 per cent of what the world produces today is traded, compared with only 18 per cent when the Uruguay Round was launched in 1986. Trade has played a major role in supporting growth and development during this period. Indeed, trade has proved to be one of the best anti-poverty tools in history.

But, as trade has grown, quite understandably, so have concerns about the effects that it may have on the environment.

Some aspects of trade actually benefit the environment, through supporting increased efficiency in production, for example. But there is no doubt that there can be harmful effects too, which we must seek to manage and mitigate.

Trade in endangered species is one example of such problems — and, of course, CITES is a good example of an effective solution.

The second trend is that non-tariff measures are growing in importance, as traditional barriers such as tariffs progressively decline.

These non-tariff measures have been with us since nations first traded with each other. They cover several areas, including the environment. Indeed, every day governments around the world adopt new non-tariff measures, or make existing ones more stringent, to curb mounting environmental pressures.

These measures range from green taxes on pollutants, to requirements that seek to improve resource efficiency, to government incentives to support green technologies.

We have seen this trend in our data here at the WTO.

Today, almost one in four notifications about technical requirements in WTO members is about measures related to the environment, compared with one in ten in 2003.

The use of these measures often affects trade. In the vast majority of cases, this is a by-product of pursuing legitimate environmental or other public policy goals. But there is also a risk that governments may use non-tariff measures in a protectionist manner.

We have ways to take care of this, as I'll point out in a moment.

The third trend I want to highlight is the increase in regional trade agreements in recent years.

Since the establishment of the WTO, we have witnessed a steady rise in the number of these agreements with environment-related provisions.

Close to 60 per cent of all such agreements notified to the WTO, or to the GATT, contain provisions related to the environment that go beyond what we find in the WTO agreements.

As I have said before, more work and more data are needed to gain a better understanding of what these numbers mean.

What is clear is that both developed and developing countries increasingly see regional trade agreements as appropriate instruments to address trade-related environmental issues.

The WTO has sought to react to these trends.

Our rules give members ample room to pursue legitimate environmental and other policy goals, while keeping protectionism firmly in check.

And during the last two decades, several environment-related measures have been tested against those rules through our dispute settlement system.

The measures in question sought to achieve a variety of policy goals — from the conservation of sea turtles, to the protection of the environment and human health.

The case law has confirmed that members may be permitted to apply trade-restrictive environmental measures.

But they must also fulfil certain conditions to ensure that environmental measures are not applied arbitrarily or used as disguised protectionism.

We also have a forum dedicated to enhancing our dialogue and improving mutual understanding on these issues, in the shape of the Committee on Trade and Environment.

This forum has allowed members to maintain an open channel of communication with each other, and with the environmental policy community — including with many of the multilateral environmental agreements.

And it has been instrumental in ensuring that the WTO's approach to the environment can evolve and adapt to changing realities on the ground.

So we have a good foundation to deal with environmental issues within the WTO. But there is no doubt that the links between trade and the environment are going to increase in the years ahead, and therefore we need to consider how we can build on these foundations.

Looking forward, trade will continue to be a key engine of growth in the coming years.

Without trade, it is difficult to see how the world can provide for the additional 2 billion people expected by 2050, and respond to the urgent need to improve living standards, particularly for the poorest.

This calls for practical and realistic ways to make trade and environmental policies work together, both at national and international levels.

And we are taking steps to tackle this through our negotiating agenda.

WTO members have been discussing ways to achieve fewer and lower trade barriers on key environmental goods and services — which is part of the Doha Development Agenda.

Independently a group of members, who together account for the majority of global environmental goods trade, launched a process to eliminate tariffs on these goods last July.

These talks on an 'Environmental Goods Agreement' would include technologies like solar panels and hydropower turbines. It is a welcome endeavour, which could bring major economic gains. And, crucially, although it is being taken forward by a group of members, the benefits would apply to the whole WTO membership.

The elimination, or reduction, of trade barriers here would provide WTO members with greater access to a variety of imported goods involving environmentally friendly technologies and some of the services which support them. It could also help to stimulate innovation and facilitate the development of green industries.

In addition to this work, I think that we should seek to enhance our coherence with other initiatives at the international level.

The Doha Agenda also puts a focus on the relationship between the WTO and the multilateral environmental agreements, or MEAs. The WTO and MEA secretariats, including the UNFCCC, have been engaged in fruitful collaboration for some years.

A successful outcome to our negotiations here would formalize this cooperation. Moreover, it would establish concrete means to avoid potential conflicts between WTO and MEA rules, for example by strengthening national cooperation between government agencies which deal with trade and environment.

The WTO and UNEP have also worked actively and constructively together over recent years.

I think our joint report explaining for the first time the connections between trade and climate change was a seminal moment in bringing our institutions together.

We should seek now to build on this partnership.

The establishment of the UN Environment Assembly, which held its first meeting last year, opens up fresh avenues for cooperation between our two agencies. And we stand ready to support the Environment Assembly in any way we can.

Ladies and gentlemen, the creation of the WTO 20 years ago was a defining moment in the history of multilateralism.

It also put the relationship between trade and sustainable development on a more solid footing.

It has helped WTO members navigate successfully the rapidly evolving and expanding interface between trade and the environment.

But, as I have indicated today, much remains to be done.

We have the opportunity this year to take a big leap forward…

  • through the closer cooperation of our organisations;
  • through the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris; and
  • by advancing negotiations here at the WTO — including at our Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.

Progress in each of these areas would be the best way to secure a better future for our habitats, our societies and our economies — and therefore to deliver on the vision that the WTO founders set out 20 years ago.

I know that we will all be working to realize this goal — and I think we are taking an important step here today.

Thank you for listening.


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