Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Trade Agreements and the Environment: Will the Revived Doha Round help?

The WTO obviously believe that gloablisation is good for the environment.

INTERVIEW - Free Trade can Help Guard the Environment - WTO
Proposals in the revived Doha Round of free trade talks could help protect the environment if governments agree to a deal at forthcoming negotiations, the head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) said on Monday.

Can it be that simple? The primary solution seems to be to cut subsidies and tariffs on environmental goods.
Measures to cut farming and fisheries subsidies will stop overproduction while others will lower tariffs on environmentally sound goods and services, Pascal Lamy said on the fringes of a major UN environment meeting in Kenya.

So with the environment so high on the agenda does this mean that Doha Round will succeed this time? The solution, as ever, lies with the US along with the EU and Japan this time.
Experts say the key to a deal lies in getting deeper US cuts in farm subsidies, which poor nations say give farmers there an unfair advantage, and in securing similar reforms from the EU, Japan and other big importers on farm tariffs.

I for one will not be holding my breath.


Keith R said...

Hi Rob. I was reading Lamy's speech on this yesterday, and my reaction was (somewhat sarcastically) "nice try." Over the last few months Lamy has been speaking to anyone who will listen about the importance of finishing the Doha trade round negotiations, and using every angle he can think of. So it is no surprise that he would address the UNEP Governing Council and Environment Ministerial and talk loftily about the importance of the environment in the Doha Round.

Yes, "trade in environmental goods and services" (we could have a long discussion on what exactly that covers!) was included in the laundry list of issues to be addressed by this Round, and yes some meetings have been held. Fact is, though, that the issue has long been treated with "also ran" status (some nations would happily jettison it if they could get a deal on other Doha Round issues), the negotiations (if they can be truly called that) have been sluggish at best, and the proposals have been anything but bold and inspiring. Furthermore, contrary to what Lamy might have one believe, environmental considerations have hardly been prominent in the discussions on agricultural subsidies or agricultural trade barriers...

Doha Round negotiators have also tried to ignore, dodge or finesse such troublesome issues as how trade instruments should be used in multilateral environment agreements (MEAs), when environmental considerations in national laws legitimately trump trade and investment rules, etc. None of them easy questions to resolve, to be sure, but letting them fester does not help.

Can trade policy help the environment, and should the environment feature more prominently in the WTO talks? I think so, if we are to ever fully address a global issue such as climate change. For example, does it make sense that trade rules in so many nations made it difficult and expensive to import photovoltaics, wind turbines, water treatment and waste treatment technologies? That corn-based ethanol is so heavily subsidized in the US, but sugar-based ethanol from Brazil faces high US tariffs? Etc etc

Sorry for the rant, but I have seen/heard lots of rhetoric from national and multilateral officials over the last 15 or so years about how important addressing the trade/environment nexus is to them, but few concrete examples of them putting their negotiating stances where their mouths are.

Rob said...

Thanks Keith - for what its worth I wholeheartedly agree with your rant.