Experts grapple with trade, environment conflicts

Panel aims to define tangible policies on trade and sustainable development

Government participants in an international expert panel say the discussions could lead to a "credible" package of policy to help resolve conflicts between trade and sustainable development.

The expert panel on trade and sustainable development (EPTSD) was set up by environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). It is funded by seven European governments and the European Commission (ENDS Daily 17 February). The panel's second meeting ended in Cairo yesterday.

Speaking from Cairo last night, panel member Magda Shahin told ENDS Daily that the group's work "should help to bring about positive synergies between trade and the environment in the global economy."

Dr Shahin is an Egyptian government representative to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) who has also played a key role in discussions in the WTO's committee on trade and the environment. The committee has failed to come up with recommendations to resolve tensions between trade rules and environmental measures, despite two years of discussions.

Dr Shahin suggested that one reason for the lack of progress is that the "aspect of development is completely missing from the WTO's discussions". She contrasted this with the EPTSD, which she said could deliver "tangible policies" that enable free market access, trade liberalisation and environmental commitments to be honoured because it can look at environmental, social and economic aspects together.

The panel is to examine trade and environment conflicts in detail in several sectors. One of the first will be textile production and trade despite some reservations about embracing what is generally thought of as a "sensitive" industry in trade terms. Textile production is an important foreign-exchange earner for many developing countries, including Egypt. It also tends to be dominated by small businesses and therefore carries acute social sensitivities. On top of this, developing countries feel strongly that WTO rules on trade in textiles unfairly discriminate against them.

The role of international investments in achieving sustainable development was another important topic of discussion at the WWF panel. Gunnel Nycander of Sweden's environment ministry, who participated in the meeting, suggested international financing for electricity generation and for dams as examples of environmentally-sensitive investments. She described investment as "a very important issue".

Follow Up:
WWF, tel: +41 22 364 9550.

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