European consumer cooperatives today expressed concern that freer global trade rules could threaten key EU environmental policies and called on the Union to take a tough line on trade-environment issues when a new round of world talks kicks off at the end of this month. Euro Coop, which represents over 3,000 local cooperatives and 19m consumers, claims that the EU's ecolabelling scheme, as well as voluntary schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council, are at risk of being defined as technical barriers to trade unless they are vigorously defended. In a new position paper on trade and environment issues in the millennium round of negotiations, the organisation adds that EU laws such as the 1994 directive on packaging waste and a proposed new directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment, are "threatened by World Trade Organisation rules". Euro Coop urges the EU to ensure that the relationship between multilateral trade rules and the precautionary principle is clarified in order to allow countries to take action under the principle, "for instance concerning genetically modified organisms". "We believe that WTO rules can promote environmental protection and sustainable development," the organisation says. But "we do not accept that free trade should mean the 'lowest common denominator' should prevail."
Euro Coop, tel: +32 2 285 0070.
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