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Threatening the Environment

Background - 2 July, 2004
Since it was established in 1995, the WTO has made the promotion of free trade for the gain of private interests the ultimate goal, over and above all other social, public and environmental objectives.

Reef logs on their way to the sawmill.

The WTO puts free trade before sustainable development

Although the WTO agreement requires that its members use the world's resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, in practice, free trade wins every time.

As countries compete to trade more, production and the use of natural resources are spiralling in one direction - up. Resources are being used up faster than they can be replenished. The oceans are being emptied of fish, ancient forests are being destroyed, and river basins are being sold off one by one to private drinking water companies.

Huge oil, gas, mining, pharmaceutical and agri-business multinationals keep expanding their operations at all costs, creating more and more pollution. Their sole goal - to make money, not to take care of our planet and health, now or for future generations.

The WTO puts trade before the environment

Undermining environmental rules

The WTO is putting trade before our environment. Where trade and environmental rules conflict, trade rules tend to win.

For example, the WTO may be used to limit the use of environmental labels such as the Forest Stewardship Council™(FSC®) label. The FSC® label confirms that a product has come from a "sustainably managed" forest. The problem is that these labels can be considered "discriminatory" under WTO rules. Worried about risking trade sanctions by using the FSC® label, countries will be less likely to use the environmental label.

Undermining key environmental agreements and principles

The Biosafety Protocol is the first legally binding global agreement that allows countries to reject GMOs on the basis of what is known as the "precautionary principle." Both the Protocol and the precautionary principle are being threatened by the US complaint to the WTO on the EU's policy on genetically modified organisms. More about this dispute.