Free trade will have adverse effect on environment says report

Liberalisation of trade rules as proposed in the World Trade Organisation's current Doha negotiating round would damage the environment and contribute to climate change, a study has found.

Conducted by the University of Manchester’s Institute for Development Policy and Management, the study applied sustainability impact assessments to WTO trade proposals to liberalise trade in agriculture, forests and distribution services.

It found that, overall, freer trade would lead to “adverse” environmental effects, which could “in principle be countered with technology or regulatory effects”, but that at present the talks “do not include measures that will strengthen these positive effects sufficiently.”

The report was prepared for the European Commission and found that the economic impacts of proposed liberalised trade for the EU would be beneficial across all three sectors, while environmental impacts would be minimal due to Europe’s strong regulatory system.

However, in developing countries, the effects would be more noticeable. “Least developed countries tend to benefit least for all three sectors,” the report notes. “Environmental impacts in developing countries are found to be negative overall in all three sectors,” it continues as, “environmental regulation in these countries tends to be insufficiently strong to counter the adverse effects automatically.”

In distribution the main adverse effects are from increased transport and packaging, while in the forestry sector adverse negative effects come from weak governance leading to soil erosion and biodiversity loss from unsustainable harvesting and conversion of forests to agriculture. The agriculture study indicates further environmental impacts from greater use of agro-chemicals in some areas and from increased transport in others.

All three studies indicate an overall adverse impact on climate change mainly from increased transport emissions and on global biodiversity from pressures for increased agricultural production in biologically sensitive areas.

The results were seized on by environmental campaigners. Kim Bizzarri of Friends of the Earth Europe commented: “The European Commission’s studies illustrate that the environment will be the main loser from liberalisation. The European Commission cannot ignore the findings of its very own analysis. Time has come for the EU to change its out-of-date trade mandate. The EU must pay respect to its commitment towards environmental protection.”

By David Hopkins

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