Fears over environment protection in WTO trade talks

Governments are planning to use the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks taking place in Geneva this week to dismantle a wide range of national laws protecting the environment, campaigners have alleged.

The WTO General Council meeting talks aim to free up trade in natural resources which, environmental groups claim, will threaten the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in the developing world who rely on the natural environment for their survival.

Papers registered with the WTO show that countries are arguing that green measures ranging from pollution controls to eco-labels are barriers to trade and wish to undermine such things as energy efficiency ratings, dolphin friendly fishing methods and sustainable timber certification schemes.

Tony Juniper, Director of Friends of the Earth, said: “Earlier this month the UK worked hard to highlight the scandal of poverty in the G8 talks. Now ministers are pushing ahead with trade measures that will threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor people in the developing world. Trade in natural resources may well generate huge profits for big corporations, but will leave millions of people who depend on forests and fish with no livelihood.”

A leaked document from the UK’s Department for International Development has shown that the UK fears it is losing the debate with the public over the trade in natural resources – known in the negotiation terms as non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

The leaked paper says the UK “has been less than successful at putting a convincing political economy case” for trade liberalisation. As a result it is looking to commission new research to justify its position. “It will be important to convey the economic arguments in a straightforward language, together with convincing examples,” the paper says.

It goes on to highlight that the reason the government has not been winning the argument is due to “the difficulty to produce clear cut examples of the benefits of liberalisation.”

“It is revealing to see that while the government has already decided on its position, it is now going back to find the evidence to justify it,” Juniper added. “It is no wonder they are struggling to find clear cut benefits of trade policies they back, because they are few and far between. These trade talks must be halted until there is a fuller understanding of what is at stake, who will benefit and who will lose out.”

Protestors have taken a giant Peter Mandelson puppet to the talks, to be operated by a ‘corporate lobbyist’ outside the EU’s delegation in Geneva to highlight what they see as the corporate agenda being pursued by the European Commission at the WTO.

Alexandra Wandel, trade coordinator of Friends of the Earth Europe

said: “With Peter Mandelson as EU Trade Commissioner democracy takes another blow from spin and big business. Big corporations will be the big winners, people and the environment the losers of the EU’s trade agenda.

The time has come to fundamentally change the trade policies of the EU and to make them just, sustainable and democratically accountable.”

By David Hopkins

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