• 30 MAY 05
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    WTO Talks a Threat to Environment – NGOs

    WTO Talks a Threat to Environment – NGOs
    Stefania Bianchi

    BRUSSELS, May 25 (IPS) – Laws protecting the environment, social well-being and health are increasingly coming under attack at international trade discussions, according to new analysis from a leading environmental group.

    Friends of the Earth International says a growing number of countries are using negotiations under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to make changes to national laws which could have a devastating impact on the global environment.

    The group says more and more governments, including those in China, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and the United States are planning to use the non-agricultural market access (Nama) negotiations within the WTO to dismantle a wide range of national laws protecting the environment, social well-being and health.

    Other governments challenging these and other national laws include Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Cuba, some European member states, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, as well as the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries.

    A list released by the environmental group Tuesday (May 24), shows that these countries have made a total of 212 challenges to legislation in other countries. Laws covering labelling and certification requirements, national standards and regulations, export restrictions, restrictions on foreign investment and measures to promote local economic development have all been raised as potential ‘barriers to trade’ over the past few months.

    Friends of the Earth warns that the list represents ‘a significant challenge to the health and well-being of populations and their environment around the world’, and stresses that it could undo decades of campaigning for increased environmental, health and social standards.

    ‘This is a breath-taking and shameful attack on social and environmental standards world-wide. Chemical pollution, climate change, deforestation, depleted fish stocks, waste – none of these seem to matter in the slightest when it comes to the all-important business of accessing new markets and making a quick buck,’ Ronnie Hall, trade programme coordinator for Friends of the Earth International said Tuesday.

    These challenges to alleged non-tariff barriers have been put forward by WTO member countries in the form of official notifications, in accordance with the procedure established for this purpose.

    However, the group says so far little attention has been paid to these Nama negotiations, and insists that there could be serious repercussions for the global environment and the development of fair and sustainable economies if they go ahead.

    ‘It’s quite incredible that WTO members could have spent three years quietly developing this wish-list of national laws that businesses would like to see swept aside, seemingly oblivious to the public outrage that will inevitably result,’ said Hall.

    ‘The Nama negotiations finally expose the WTO for what it is — an institution set up specifically to promote a corporate development agenda,’ he added.

    Friends of the Earth warns that measures controlling the use of toxic chemicals are taking a hammering, with countries including Japan and Argentina challenging legislation that seeks to manage the environmental hazards posed by certain chemicals.

    The group says policies that promote energy efficiency in household appliances are also being targeted for elimination, as well as restrictions on trade in wild animals and products made from them and restrictions on the use of heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead and chromium in the production of electronic appliances.

    Even chemicals legislation that has been in place since the 1960s could be under threat. Japan is clearly intent on using the Nama negotiations to try to stop the European Union introducing its proposed new Reach (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) legislation.

    The Nama negotiations are part of the overall Doha Development Round of trade negotiations, which also include the agricultural and services sectors. Initiated in the Qatar capital in 2001, these talks are running far behind schedule and reached the verge of a total breakdown at the fifth WTO ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003.

    The WTO has been forced to postpone all of the deadlines set for the negotiations since 2001 as a result of often profound disagreements between the developing and industrialised nations, which have brought the talks to a standstill.

    Friends of the Earth is now insisting that the Nama part of the negotiations should be stopped so that a full, independent review of the potential environmental and developmental impacts of Nama can be carried out.

    SOURCE: International Press Service News Agency

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