Sustainability in the Hemispheric Integration System
David Schorr
World Wildlife Fund

Hemispheric Trade and Sustainability Symposium, April 17, 2001, Musée de la Civilisation, Quebec, Canada Sponsored by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, The World Conservation Union and the United Nations Environmental Programme http://www.iisd.org/trade/qc2001

(Prepared by Madeline Koch)

Note: The following is a partial summary of remarks given at the Hemispheric Trade and Sustainability Symposium. It is neither an official document nor a complete transcript, nor has it been checked against the speaker's text.

I will frame the debate in a global context, not just hemispheric. It is important to recognize that the negotiations will be intimately related to the investment negotiations that will take place at the global level.

I will first look at the reality of the link that now exists between sustainable development and trade and investment. The lessons learned recently are that reality is now staring us in the face and cannot be ignored. It is no longer about tunas and dolphins and shrimps but much more profound.

Second, I will talk about early but hopeful indications at national levels that some governments are beginning to respond to.

Third, I will give a fundamental message governments are way behind the curve - a look at the Buenos Aires declaration. The rhetoric has improved.

So I will talk about troubling, depressing, mixed and hopeful things.

So, on the troubling front. Some but not all but some of the alarms that were raised ten years ago by environmental groups about the impacts of trade policies have come true. There is no better example than in the field of investment - see NAFTA chapter 11. It is fair to say that the rules have been extended in ways that were perhaps not anticipated. What was once a last-resort tool for corporations that were truly aggrieved by governments has now become a tool of first course.

Governments know that there is a problem with the way investment policy now works. They are stuck on how to move forward. Similarly there is evidence that liberalizing trade in an export-driven model does not work. There is the simple fact of the disparity between income and increasing environmental damage and we can now look at how market liberalization can contribute to this in a more rigorous way.

I was heartened by the rhetoric from both ministers Anderson and Pettigrew earlier. Both contained good words but continued the mantra of trade equals growth equals prosperity equals good for the environment. This is not a solecism that is correct, and wee cannot simply grow out of this problem.

What is depressing is that we must be aware of the impending failure of Rio plus 10. It is struggling to find what it can say for itself. The Rio package was intimately linked to a trade liberalization package. First of all, environmental governance is essential to government. Second, real resource transfers from north to south must happen in order to make sustainable development possible. The only footnote is that we are in the trade-not-aid mode. When we signed the Uruguay round, we were told the cheque is in the mail. Well, it is still in the mail.

What has happened at the WTO with the issue of sustainable development is that we are accused of trying to highjack it, but we are forced into this position by the fact that the U.S. agenda is to use the WTO as the chief forum for negotiating whether GMOs are good. Our view is this is insane extension of the WTO.

I have mixed views about the NAFTA side agreement. The citizens participation process, Article 14 and 15, allows people to go to the CEC if they think their government has failed to enforce environmental law. It has no sanctions attached to it. It has been used by more than two dozen groups that have found it useful. But all three governments have tried to cripple the process by subjecting it micro management. I regret to report that this process was led by the same government whose representative this very morning articulated support for the side agreement. Fortunately, it was beaten back. When this attack occurred, WWF and others produced a groundswell of opposition in all three countries - a spontaneous conflagration. This proved that the NAFTA side agreement has become a reality among many small groups; second, among those groups were those still critical of NAFTA, which is a sign of maturation; third, there are now protests at every meeting, which are a necessary challenge and which we must be grateful for.

I want to take a moment to warn those in government and some of my colleagues against dismissing those protesters as unsophisticated. In Seattle, one night we were drinking late with people dressed up as turtles who had been in the streets. They had started drinking long before we arrived, and they were now spouting poetry. I asked one what he knew, and he gave me one of the best technical and legal analyses of the turtle case I've ever heard. So do not underestimate the protesters' understanding of the issues.

Mark Halle of the IISD mentioned the fishing subsidies issue, which is one I am hopeful about. We were able to raise this as an issue at the WTO, working with supportive governments to launch an international negotiation. This negotiation was brought to the table by a non-governmental organization. So, although the ability to do so is limited, it is nonetheless politically possible to do this. We are now seeing that the independent certification of products to make them greener is getting a toehold in the past few years. The amount of certified wood in some countries in Europe is 10 percent and major fish products are now certified, but the rules of international trade remain for the most part hostile to certification. Even ministers who support the concept take contrary positions - the devil is in details.

Much has been made of the lack of transparency and participation in the Summit of the Americas. Yes, these are important. I have never seen a summit so closed to public participation, which I regret. But the real problem is at level of the national governments. To make progress, we must confront the fact that we are talking about a fundamental realignment of influence over economic policy. We need many tools, which may possibly include street protests, and certainly includes sustainability assessments. The governments must be committed to having organized processes by which they pose hard questions to themselves and then speak to their constituents, not just commercial ones. UNEP has done a lot of work on this issue, and the governments of the U.S. and Canada have made some progress. This can be a tool for political change.

We need to move beyond rhetoric and get down to policies that change things for the better for sustainable development.

Comments from the Questions and Answers

Mark Halle, International Institute on Sustainable Development (Chair)
One of the games I play with WTO officials is to ask them what trade liberalization is for. The first answer is insufficient: to stimulate economic growth, to increase the size of the pie, to give countries the resources they need. They know very well that's insufficient. If any goal is articulated, it would have to resemble sustainable development. The only legitimate goal for the trading system is development that reduces the gaps within and among countries and pays attention to the environment. If we had such a goal it would be easier to evaluate proposals for negotiation.

We need the WTO agreements to achieve balance among countries, yet the language on how to do so is always preambular or vague. The commitments are very precise. We need to ensure that the goals are articulated and that the technical language that relates to sustainability is equally precise and contains an equal level of commitment.

David Brook, International Development Research Centre
This morning's most common word was integration. Pierre Pettigrew talked about win win win (which I understand to be economy, ecology and equity). We all know about those subsidies that are counterproductive and hinder economic growth, but there are a limited number of win win win strategies when you take only two of those goals. So is integration really a good idea? Once we get away the macro level into real issues, with tradeoffs, maybe we should present them as a political choice because we cannot have all three simultaneously.

David Schorr
I agree with David Brooks' premise and caution about how we define. Integration does not mean giving over the management of the environment to the trade bureaucracy, but something more like what Mark Halle said. Particularly in the Americas, we need to speak about growth in the same breath as the environment: it is not just about economic growth. We must start looking not just at what will more do to us but what are we already doing. That brings us quickly to the need for environmental governance for a trade process like the FTAA. We have to look beyond win win wins.

As for win win win, if it is going to work it has to create links between decision-making bodies such as the FAO in the case of fishing and trade organizations. So you're creating a real institutional relationship. Normally that is perhaps a goal to think of in the FTAA situation.

There has clearly been a process of education among a number of non-governmental organizations. One of the reasons we are so interested in sustainability assessments and domestic investigation of these issues is because they both should afford the kind of transparency you see. To look at the market access issues, to have the kind of organization that looks at environmental policies - governments that take this risk will find the debate becomes moderate as people become better informed, even though the problem of green knowledge has not gone away. We have not done all we need to do.

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