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The Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference
Cancún, Mexico from 10 to 14 September 2003

EnviReform: Strengthening Canada's Environmental Community through International Regime Reform:
Exploring Social Cohesion in a Globalizing Era

Daily Reports (see reports from other days by clicking here)

Thursday September 11, 2003

Trade and Environment at Cancun
Daniella Aburto, G8 Research Group

The Doha Development Round in 2001 incorporated an environmental mandate into the WTO's process of trade liberalization. The institution's commitment to this issue is reflected in a special session on Trade and Environment under the Trade Negotiation Committee, which reports to the General Council. The report is expected to become part of the ministerial negotiations at Cancun. Since Doha, there have been commitments to clarify the relationship between the WTO and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), to exchange information between the WTO and MEA secretariats, to establish criteria to grant observer status for MEA secretariats, and to liberalize environmental goods and services [1]. Only the last of these Doha issues — a commitment to "eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods an services" has — been achieved. This achievement is particularly promising, as "if properly executed it will increase the availability of 'green' goods in global markets and break the North and South deadlock that has paralyzed discussions on the trade regime governing such goods" [2]. As we take stock of the moderate progress that the WTO has made in the environmental realm, we are left with the question of what Cancun will mean for environmental issues.

The report from the special session on trade and the environment was apparently effective at arriving to recommendations for granting observer status to MEAs representatives at the WTO. However, within the round of negotiations, the situation for environmental issues does not look promising, as they have taken a back seat to other more pressing negotiating items. Environmental issues lie far behind discussions on liberalization of agriculture, market access to non-agricultural products, special and differential treatment, and the Singapore issues. Environment has nonetheless remained a dominant part of the discussions of a fifth working group on "other issues." Thus far it has only been reported that delegations only presented minor shifts from the environment-related paragraphs 9 and 20 of the Draft Cancun Ministerial Text (issued on August 24, 2003, as some members hope to revise them into stronger versions that can accelerate the process. Still, some members want to add a new paragraph on more participation for the MEAs.

Some environmental issues can be related to the negotiations on agriculture. Environment is one of the non-market considerations that some delegations, in particular Japan and the EU, have pushing for consideration. Various delegations have remained reluctant, as they fear they will be used for protectionist purposes.

Environmental concerns will figure highly outside the conference centre, where unofficial forums are taking places. A good example of these NGO events is the Fair Trade Fair and Sustainable Trade Symposium, which aims to promote sustainable and fair trade models from around the world as an alternative. Canada and Mexico featured as prominent supporters of this initiative. The forum was an opportunity for ministers, delegates, NGO representatives and others to meet.


1 "Trade and Environment: Cancun Update, August 2003," Doha Round Briefing Series, vol. 2, no. 9, and briefing notes in the press kit for the WTO 5th Ministerial Conference, September 10–14, 2003, Cancun.cun.

2 Scott Vaughan, "Trade Preferences and Environmental Goods," Trade, Equity, and Development, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Issue 5 (February), 2003.

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