Republicans and environmentalists criticise Clinton’s WTO agenda

Republicans and environmentalists have criticised President Clinton's plans to move environmental issues further up the agenda at next month's World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Seattle.

Speaking at a press conference last week, Clinton said that although trade remains the “the best way …to give countries the money they need to protect their environment” the wealthier countries have “a heavy responsibility to put a more human face on the global economy and that means you have to bring environmental interests into these deliberations.”

Clinton called for “a revolution in the environment with more trade and investment available for environmental technologies and alternative energy sources.” In an earlier speech, Clinton also mentioned plans to work to end subsidies that damage wildlife, such as those on commercial fishing and farm exports.

The Sierra Club, one of the groups organising mass protests during the WTO’s Seattle Summit from November 30 to December 3, was unmoved by Clinton’s plans. “The president’s proposals didn’t give us any reason to call off the demonstrations,” Daniel Seligman, director of the organisation’s Responsible Trade Programme told edie. “The proposals are really recycling old ideas that haven’t gotten anywhere. The administration is in denial about the need to fix current trade rules so that they no longer undermine our public health and environmental laws.”

The Sierra Club are keen to deny Clinton’s claims that environmentalists protesting at Seattle are fundamentally opposed to trade. A spokesman told edie that “international trade is an inevitability. However, Clinton must be able to make sure that regulators can take the precautionary steps necessary to prevent environmental disasters happening. We believe that trade with responsible environmental policies is possible and that this would benefit consumers, producers and the environment.”

Republicans have also attacked the President’s proposals. Although Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Roth welcomed the President’s commitment to push an aggressive trade agenda at the upcoming WTO meeting, he warned that the meeting was not the place to negotiate new environmental standards. “Any attempt to use the WTO as a forum for the negotiation of environmental standards is, due to the opposition of our trading partners and because of the organisation’s lack of competence in these areas, bound to fail. If we are going to address [such issues] in a negotiating forum, they should be addressed in those international organisations specially dedicated to those tasks, namely international environmental organisations, like the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

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