Briefing note: Trade and environment

How can we make trade and the protection of the environment mutually supportive? How can WTO members ensure that their laws protecting the environment do not conflict with the WTO's objective of trade opening?

Updated: November 2013

THIS EXPLANATION is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.

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These issues are important because an increased use of environmental measures, such as environmental labelling, can raise costs and cause delays for processing goods, thus making it more difficult for exporters worldwide to trade. WTO members discuss these issues in the Trade and Environment Committee by exchanging information on their policies. The objective is to ensure that environmental measures do not become unnecessary trade barriers.

While there is no specific agreement dealing with the environment, the preamble to the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the organization recognizes sustainable development and the protection and preservation of the environment as fundamental WTO goals. Under WTO rules, members can adopt trade-related measures aimed at protecting the environment under certain conditions provided that they do not serve protectionist purposes.

The Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001 launched negotiations on trade and environment as part of the Doha Round. Members agreed to negotiate on greater market opening in environmental goods and services, on the relationship between WTO rules and trade obligations set out in multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and on the exchange of information between those institutions. Under the Doha Development Agenda, the regular committee is also tasked with focusing on the effects of environmental measures on market access, the intellectual property agreement and biodiversity, and labelling for environmental purposes.


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