The Doha Mandate on the Environment
The Doha Mandate on the Environment

Aware of the public outcry over the shrimp-turtle case and growing opposition to free trade in many countries—indeed, the summit of trade officials in Seattle in 1999 failed to launch a new round of global trade negotiations-world governments recognized that they had to acknowledge the importance of the environment. When an agreement was reached among all WTO trade ministers to start a new round of global trade negotiations at a summit in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001, therefore, it included a limited mandate to open negotiations on the relationship between trade and environment in the context of the GATT and the 20 multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) governing environmental protection that have provisions affecting international trade.

This was a significant step because it raised the level of concern for the environment from that of merely studies by the CTE to the level of the full negotiations among the members of the WTO, with the results to be included in the final, legally binding, decision to come at the end of the Doha Round.

Nevertheless, the results remain to be seen, and skeptics as to the value of the negotiations exist on both sides. Developing world countries are concerned that the negotiations may be a means to discriminate against their goods. To try to forestall this problem, the CTE was also given a further mandate to study the impact of environmental protection measures on access to markets for products from the developing world.

At the same time, environmentalists are concerned that the WTO will still be too focused on free trade. The WTO reaffirmed in the Doha Declaration that its competency is in trade and that the proper forum for solving environmental problems is through MEAs, not the GATT.

Environmentalists hope, perhaps too optimistically, that the new round of negotiations will enable them to insert more concern for the environment in the international trading system, what has been called “greening the GATT.” This is particularly important for the environmental movement since there is, as of yet, no international organization to coordinate global environmental policy.

The negotiating process will, at the least, open up these issues to wider and more public airing. All of the themes that have wended their way through the development of concerns in the international trade system will be vigorously debated-sovereignty over natural resources versus international control, the role of environmental concerns in trade treaties, and, most importantly, the balance between development and environmental protection. over natural resources versus international control, the role of environmental concerns in trade treaties, and, most importantly, the balance between development and environmental protection.

After ten years, WTO members working on the Doha Round have still not reached a consensus. The direction in which agricultural tariffs, advancement of new energy and biofuel technology, and other trade concerns for developing countries (like those addressed in cases like the shrimp-turtle decision) are still unclear, even under the conditions of the preamble that promote sustainable development and environmental protections. In May 2012, a report issued by Director-General Pascal Lamy stated that small steps were being taken in resolving the differences, and that the members were still interested in pursuing any opportunity at negotiation (Lamy, 2012).

 

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