ecoglobe [yinyang] news (7 November 1999)

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4 November 1999 Geneva - Since it started operating in 1995, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has attempted to undermine international agreements established to protect the environment and the world's biological diversity, and it deliberately ignores the precautionary principle, says a Greenpeace report released today in Geneva. The Greenpeace report was released while WTO member states are meeting behind closed doors to try and agree in advance their statement to come out of the upcoming Seattle conference at the end of this month (1). By putting trade expansion before environmental caution, the WTO could cause irreversible damage to the world's crop supplies, and affect the public's right to know what they are eating. (2)

At the Headquarters of the WTO in Geneva this morning, the representatives of the WTO member states were greeted by Greenpeace activists dressed with "Safe Trade condom-like suits":

"Our governments must protect themselves, and our environment, from the WTO's risky practice which endangers the global environment", said Remi Parmentier of Greenpeace International. He said that Greenpeace does not question the right of countries to trade goods and services, but trade must be done "safely, in line with the precautionary principle whereby where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation". (3)

Greenpeace says it wants "to urgently draw public opinion's immediate attention to WTO attempts to hijack the international Convention on Biological Diversity established in 1992 during the Rio Earth Summit". According to Greenpeace, the companies that are promoting the proliferation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture "are pulling the strings to give mandate to the WTO to restrict or eliminate environmental agreements in these areas" (4), and companies interested in expanding logging into ancient forests such as the Amazon are promoting the elimination of forest product tariffs without review of their individual social, environmental or economic consequences. (5)

According to Greenpeace, it is important that before further negotiations liberalize the markets for even broader areas, "Safe Trade" rules be implemented, and that the WTO must also recognize the role of the United Nations in areas where important environmental issues are heavily at stake.

REMI PARMENTIER + 31-20-523 62 28 OR MOBILE + 31-6-535 04 702
SABINA VOOGD + 31-20-523 65 62
KRISTINA STEENBOCK + 49-171-87 80 816
Full report avialable here

(1) "Safe Trade in the 21st Century", the report released today while the WTO member states are meeting behind closed doors, was written jointly by Greenpeace International and the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

(2) Quoting trade disputes over beef hormones, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the disposal of electronic wastes, among others, Greenpeace warns that "in practice, the WTO undermines the precautionary principle because it places the burden of proof on those who seek protecting the environment and human health instead of on the industry". The "Safe Trade" report details a number of examples whereby the WTO failed to take proper consideration of health and environmental concerns and to shift the burden of proof in favour of the environment, such as the WTO ruling against the EU ban on imports of US beef from growth hormone fed cattle. It also describes how WTO regulations are used to challenge national or regional environmental regulations, such a US computer industry challenge to a draft EU Directive which seeks to reduce the use of toxic materials in computers and to increase the recycling of disused hardware. In this and other cases, the mere threat of WTO interference can be sufficient to prevent the adoption or implementation of environmental regulations. This was particularly evident when major GMO trading nations (the US, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay) pressured to prevent the adoption of a Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity to regulate the use of GMOs in food and agriculture.

(3) Greenpeace' s "Safe Trade" report calls upon the WTO to:
1)Recognise and respect Multilateral Environmental Agreements;
2) Reward sustainable production and consumption patterns;
3) Endorse and implement the precautionary principle, including a reversal of the burden of proof in favour of the environment;
4) Accept national trade-related measures to protect the environment;
5) Accept distinctions based on Production or Processing Methods, eco and other labelling schemes;
6) Become transparent and open, and invite NGOs to participate in WTO proceedings;
7) Eliminate environmentally destructive subsidies (i.e. in the forest, agriculture, fisheries and energy sectors); and
8) Limit the expansion of the WTO, unless Safe Trade has become a general practice. (4) The US (WT/GC/W/288) and Canada (WT/GC/W/359) have both proposed that the WTO creates a working group that would attempt to harmonize policies regarding GMOs, and Japan (WT/GC/W/365) who have announced a GMO labeling scheme addresses the issue of labeling. Greenpeace and others have warned that if this is not stopped, the WTO would prevent, restrict or delay the adoption of a biosafety regime under the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity. (5) The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries are proposing to "sharply cut forest product tariffs" as part of an Accelerated Tariff Liberalization (ATL) initiative submitted to the WTO. This is occurring at the time when the major logging multinational companies that are responsible for deforestation in South East Asia are known to prepare a major and unprecedented expansion of their activities in the Amazon.

[This press release was received through Sun Nov 7 15:50:14 1999]
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