WTO Trade and the Environment





Trade and the Environment: The WTO’s detrimental effect on the biosphere

Following the second World War, a document known as GATT, or General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, was established with hopes of increasing trade and helping ease tensions between nations. Through a system of rounds and meetings, tariffs between countries were lowered, increasing trade. The past half century since the creation of GATT has seen an immense increase in worldwide trade. Resulting from one of these "rounds," where nations meet to discuss trade issues, an organization known as the WTO, or the World Trade Organization, was created after the Uruguay Round of 1986-1994. With the lofty goals of uniting countries for the benefits of world economic prosperity, the WTO has put together a series of documents explaining its positions; a constitution of sorts. One of the major issues that is fought by activists and environmentalists worldwide is the WTO’s effect on the environment. In the past year alone, several massive protests have occurred at the meeting of WTO officials in several different countries. Protests such as the ones seen in Seattle and Prague are examples of the reactions taken by opponents to the WTO. These protesters have a very legitimate point that needs to be heard, and they are backed with substantial evidence supporting their claim of the harmful effects of this organization not only in environmental terms, but in basic human rights issues as well. The World Trade Organization is a harmful force to Earth’s biosphere and has shown increasingly harmful effects on the environment.
The WTO as an Organization
As mentioned before, the WTO was created on January 1, 1995, as a result of the Uruguay Round Negotiations. Currently consisting of 140 members worldwide, it is based with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and has a secretary staff of over five hundred. The organization of the WTO consists of a head Ministerial Conference, with branches of a General Council, Trade Review Body, and Dispute Settlement Body. Below these branches lie several councils and committees to deal with many different trade issues. One branch consists of a committee with the name Trade and the Environment, which concerns itself with issues relating to trade and the environment. Overseeing the organization of the WTO is the director-general, currently Michael Moore. The basis for all WTO decisions lies in its multilateral trading system, where a large amount of agreements that are negotiated and signed by members must finally be ratified in each country’s individual Senate.
While the individual agreements are signed and ratified by each country’s government, the primary purpose of the legislation is to assist the country’s producers, exporters, and importers. The overall goal of the WTO is to make trade freer, resulting in, claims the WTO, a promotion of peace worldwide, an increase in income and a stimulation of economic growth.
As part of its preamble, the WTO claims an interest in the environment, and thus created the Committee on Trade and the Environment to make decisions when environmental issues are involved. The preamble itself states it will promote trade "while allowing for the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, seeking both to protect and preserve the environment." The organization, in the past few years, however, has encouraged a lower tariff universally, thereby encouraging producers to look towards less developed countries as prime places for cheap labor and low regulations, especially low regulations relating to the environment. These less developed countries, or LDCs, are known universally for having very cheap, productive labor, and are not even close to having the environmental protection efforts seen in the United States and Europe. So these countries are encouraged to make waste of the land and save profits. Yet the WTO maintains that freer trade will benefit all, and their concern for the environment is shown in the existence of a council concerned with only environmental matters.
The Committee on Trade and Environment, or CTE, was created during the foundation of the WTO to deal with a broad-based mandate dealing with the relationships between trade and the environment. There exist many provisions in the WTO to give the CTE the right to change policies when an environmental issue is at question. When an agreement is in dispute,