WTO Trade and Environment Committees Discuss Environmental Goods, Ecolabels and Transport

9 November 2010: Three recent meetings on trade and environment held at World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters have continued existing discussions on: the relationship between multilateral agreements and the WTO; the definition of environmental goods and ecolabels; and the challenges of controlling transport emissions from a trade perspective.

The following environment-related meetings took place at WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland: on 8 November 2010, the Committee on Trade and Environment in Special Session (CTESS) held an open-ended informal meeting on all three elements under Paragraph 31 of the Doha Development Agenda; the WTO Secretariat organized a Workshop on the Linkages between Trade, Transport and the Environment during the morning of 9 November 2010; and the Committee on Trade and Environment in Regular Session (CTE Regular) met in the afternoon of 9 November 2010.

At the CTESS meeting, delegates continued to discuss the relationship between the WTO and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). Both Norway and South Africa drew attention to previously submitted proposals while Switzerland introduced a new submission. Switzerland's paper, the first to be received by the Committee on the topic in over two years, focuses largely on conflict avoidance. Particular concerns were raised regarding the Swiss proposal's implications for the WTO's dispute settlement procedures. Regarding negotiations on environmental goods, delegates stressed the need to address cross-cutting issues such as non-tariff barriers (NTBs), special and differential treatment, and technology transfer. While some were in favor of moving forward into more technical discussions on the basis of identified environmental goods, others were of the view that the Committee should move beyond market access and address other cross-cutting issues. Despite the lack of agreement on how negotiations should proceed, most members agreed on the need to accelerate negotiations on environmental goods.

The WTO Secretariat Workshop on the Linkages between Trade, Transport and the Environment interrogated the complex and multifaceted relationships between these three topics, particularly in the context of air emissions. Expert presentations explored the overarching linkages between trade, transport and environment, as well as offered perspectives from the maritime and aviation transportation industries. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted that mitigating the environmental impact of transportation requires careful policy instrument mixes, while the World Bank emphasized the importance of transport costs in overall trade costs, and suggested that both technology standards and carbon prices would be needed to drive effective change in the transport sector. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) described measures in place that regulate emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides from vessels, and highlighted the efforts of the maritime transport industry to develop technical and market based measures to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Finally, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) presented its roadmap for GHG emissions reductions, including the introduction of biofuels into the aviation fuel mix, and improvement of air traffic control infrastructure, without precluding the use of sector-specific market based approaches for climate change mitigation.

At the CTE Regular meeting, discussions focused on technology dissemination and eco-labels. Saudi Arabia made a presentation on the importance of enhancing dissemination of key environmental technologies. It was claimed that eliminating trade barriers,  particularly non tariff barriers, would lower costs, increase the availability of technology through commercialization and in turn drive innovation. Members also exchanged national experiences on eco-labels. For example, Singapore introduced four public and two private eco-labelling schemes that it currently has in place, and Chinese Taipei introduced its voluntary public Green Mark Programme used to stimulate green purchases. Finally, members heard from the WTO Secretariat, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on work being taken on trade and environment technical assistance, green economy and the role of intellectual property in the transfer of clean energy. [IISDRS Sources]