The Old GATT and the Environment

It took the GATT no less than 24 years to explicitly address the connection between international trade and the environment. In November 1971, on the verge of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the GATT Council of Representatives established the Group on Environmental Measures and International Trade (EMIT). Nonetheless, it would be quite an overstatement to speak of a continuous environmental agenda from the early 1970s onwards; in fact, the EMIT never convened in the first twenty years after its establishment. And it took up to 1989, until another "organ" with an environmental subject—a working group on trade in hazardous substances—was set up.1" It was thus only the late 1980s and early 1990s that a second environmental debate took place within the architecture of the GATT, clearly instigated by key events such as the publication of the Brundtland Commission's report on "Our Common Future" [21] and the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. This second debate "came at an awkward time for GATT signatories, since the Uruguay Round entered a deep crisis in the early 1990s and the agricultural dispute between the U.S.A. and the EU threatened to scupper the talks" [16]. Though advocated by major industrialized countries, any comprehensive approach to ecological standards was blocked by developing countries who interpreted them as a disguise for protectionist measures [22] (see Section 10.3.2).

Given the rather sporadic and mostly consultative nature of these initiatives (due to the controversies among member states), the baseline for the old GATT's environmental agenda is not to be found in the activities of its political bodies. Instead, this agenda has mostly been externally imposed by some of the states' parties, namely when invoking the GATT Panel in order to solve disputes about national environmental policies. It is thus the dispute settlement system, where the old GATT repeatedly shaped and broadened its environmental role— a tradition which was well picked up by the WTO, though as will be shown, with more favorable implications for environmental concerns. The importance of these judicial decisions notwithstanding, the next section will focus on a more obvious novelty of the WTO, namely bodies particularly designed for the trade-environment nexus.

* Among the WTO bodies dealing with these issues are the Trade and Finance and Trade Facilitation Division, the Training and Technical Cooperation Institute, the Committee on Trade-Related Investment Measures, the Committee on Trade and Development, the Sub-Committee on Least-Developed Countries, the Committee on Trade in Civil Aircraft, etc. cf.http://www.wto. org/English/tratop_e/envir_e/envir_backgrnd_e/c1s1_e.htm (14 April 2006). t The EMIT should convene at the request of Contracting Parties, with participation being open to all. However, this only happened in 1991; again, an upcoming global conference, the 1992 UN Conference on Trade and Environment (UNCED), helped put the environment on the WTO's agenda. Several member states of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) requested EMIT's activation in order to debate the trade-related impacts of environmental measures.

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