Conflicting objectives of international environmental and trade regimes

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Alice Palmer, Senior Adviser to the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD), and Richard Tarasofsky, head of the Energy, Environment and Development Programme at Chatham House, have written a paper that sets out options for avoiding conflicts and building a positive relationship between international trade and environmental objectives.

The writers highlight that the vast majority of the world’s governments signing up to both the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and those of major multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) could lead to a damaging clash between environmental and international trade regimes. 

This problematic relationship has been discussed during the Doha round of negotiations within the WTO, but the writers argue that this round does not offer a broad enough mandate to discuss the full range of issues relevant to the trade-environment relationship in a meaningful way that involves all relevant actors. 

On top of this, the legal relationship between trade measures permitted by MEAs and forbidden by the WTO agreements is ambiguous, they argue. 

Political and legal action with a strong political message is necessary to address this problem, outside the confines of the Doha Round mandate. 

Palmer and Tarasofsky conclude that it is the WTO that can provide the leadership necessary to attain greater coherence between different bodies of international law and environmental and trade regimes. 

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