Taking the Environment Seriously in the WTO

It is now abundantly clear that developing countries will not accept an outcome from multilateral trade negotiations that does not confer on them—or at least the more vocal of them—tangible trade benefits and that does not go some way toward correcting existing inequities and imbalances. Although it is hard to imagine an outcome in which all countries will benefit, any acceptable outcome will have to offer clear benefits to developing countries in some form, even if not directly due to trade openness. Development has now become a genuine trade imperative.

If the environment has not achieved this same position, it is nevertheless remarkable

New Approaches to Trade Governance how this concern has progressed toward acceptability in the trading system. The early fear that the powerful new WTO would challenge and roll back decades of environmental achievement at the international level has subsided, replaced in both the trade and environmental communities with the far healthier view that each concern relates to and affects the other and that both need to find ways to be mutually supportive. This includes the need to ensure that environmental standards do not become an unwarranted obstacle to market access by developing countries, but also that they are not unnecessarily challenged over their effect on trade. There is growing respect in the trade community for multilateral environmental agreements and even for their need to use trade measures to ensure compliance. The trade community asks only that the distortions to trade be no greater than necessary to achieve the purpose for which they are used.17

There remains, however, the problem that the trading system serves an outdated and failed economic paradigm, that it favors the corporate sector at the expense of public policy goals, and that its rules have shifted the balance of benefit further toward the private sector.

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