SCC Trade & Environment



The World Trade Organization at Cancun


NGO Statement on Multilateral Environmental Agreements and the World Trade Organization

August 2003


The signatory organizations listed below express unqualified support for Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) that are critical to the protection and recovery of the environment and to the promotion of sustainable development worldwide. We express deep concern that the current negotiations at the World Trade Organization are threatening these international environmental laws by making them subservient to trade law. The success of WTO supremacy over MEAs would severely retard the ability of the global community to react to such major environmental challenges as climate change, extinction and pollution.

We call upon all delegates to the 5th WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancún, Mexico, September 10-14, 2003, to defend the principles and letter of international environmental laws, especially in the context of paragraph 31(i) of that the Doha Declaration that authorizes negotiations on “the relationship between existing WTO rules and specific trade obligations set out in Multilateral Environmental Agreements.”

MEAs fulfill various critical global environmental objectives with trans-boundary effects that cannot be addressed by individual nations. MEAs have included trade measures since the late 19th Century, and include agreements related to trade in endangered species, the movement of hazardous waste, the protection of biological diversity, and the use of substances that deplete the ozone layer.

The WTO should limit the outcome of these negotiations to a general reaffirmation of the 1996 report by the Committee on Trade and the Environment (CTE), which stated that parties to a Multilateral Environmental Agreement should seek to resolve disputes about trade measures in the context of the environmental agreement.

We believe that any consideration of the relationship between WTO rules and MEA rules will result in bargaining away important environmental protections in favor of greater trade liberalization. For this reason, it is preferable to have no negotiated outcome than to have an outcome any less clearly deferential to MEAs than the position asserted to date by the CTE.

The outcome of the WTO’s negotiations on MEAs should avoid specific attempts to define an MEA, or to establish procedures or criteria applying to specific trade measures between parties to an MEA.

Related to paragraph 31(ii) of the Doha Declaration, we further call on the parties to the WTO to grant to all MEA Secretariats observer status to the WTO’s negotiations, and to create procedures for regular information exchange between Secretariats and relevant WTO committees. This level of transparency and involvement is needed to help predict and mitigate any negative impact the WTO may have on MEAs. These relations are also important to furthering the environmental objectives of developing countries.





Sierra Club of Canada