WTO environment committee meets

Session focuses on relationship between international trade, environment, agreements

Linkages between international trade and environmental rules were the main focus of a meeting of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) environment committee held last week in Geneva. Switzerland presented a paper on the relationship between the WTO and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). An information session was held with secretariats of MEAs such as the UN conventions on climate change, biosafety and ozone layer protection.

Switzerland's paper suggests creating objective criteria to determine when MEAs should "defer" to the WTO and vice versa. Some European leaders have suggested that growth in international environmental law requires the creation of a global environmental judiciary body (ENDS Daily 17 May). The idea of an "environmental WTO" is also set to figure prominently during France's six-month presidency of the EU (ENDS Daily 6 April).

During the meeting, the European Commission circulated copies of its February communication on the precautionary principle (ENDS Daily 2 February) and called for clarification of the principle's use in the WTO "to ensure that is not used as a form of protectionism".

The paper got a mixed welcome from other delegations. Some supported it, but others, particularly the USA and Japan, stressed that it would be difficult to reach a generally-agreed definition of precaution and expressed concern that the principle could be misused to justify protectionism.

The Geneva meeting was the WTO environment committee's second of 2000. Its final session of the year will be held in October.

Follow Up:
World Trade Organisation, tel: +41 22 739 5111, and information pages on trade and environment.

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