ecostory 25/2005 - WTO challenging "barriers to trade", the environment included
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    Press Release from Friends of the Earth - Monday 18th April 2005)

    GENEVA (Switzerland) / BRUSSELS (Belgium), April 18, 2005 - Governments including Japan, Korea, Mexico and the United States [1] are planning to use new World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations to dismantle a wide range of national laws protecting the environment, social well-being and health, Friends of the Earth International revealed today.

    A list compiled by the environmental group before trade negotiators meet in Geneva [2] shows that legislation covering food, fisheries, timber and petroleum production, energy efficiency, chemical testing, recycling and standards in the electronics and automobile industries have all been raised as potential "barriers to trade" in the past few months [3].

    Friends of the Earth International's analysis [4] of non-tariff barriers challenged by the countries mentioned above under the so-called 'Non-Agricultural Market Access' negotiations includes 72 challenges to environmental and health standards around the world [5].

    These include a breath-taking array of challenges to national standards and regulations, measures to promote local economic development, restrictions on foreign investment, labelling and certification requirements and restrictions on exports. Should governments succeed in eliminating these 'non-tariff barriers' they would undo a wealth of legislation designed and implemented to protect people and their environment around the world.

    Governments are challenging and seeking to dismantle laws [6] that:
    • Register new and existing chemicals (this challenge explicitly includes the proposed EU REACH legislation [7])
    • Conserve natural resources and promote local economic development in developing countries by restricting exports of forest and mineral products
    • Ensure manufacturers collect and recycle scrapped cars
    • Ban imports of skins from animals killed using inhumane hunting practices
    • Ensure all home appliances are labeled showing their energy efficiency ratings
    • Promote fuel efficiency by reducing taxes that 'give a competitive advantage' to cars with small engines; and through corporate average fuel efficiency standards (these are the US CAFE standards [8])
    • Ensure high standards for the certification of medicines
    • Permit consumers to know which containers and products can be recycled
    • Allow developing countries to direct and control foreign direct investment in the automobile and petroleum oils sectors
    "The WTO is finally showing its true colours. 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. We simply - and literally - cannot allow the WTO to continue like this. Our future is at stake," said Ronnie Hall of Friends of the Earth.


    In Geneva Ronnie Hall, Friends of the Earth International +44 7967 017281 or email

    In Brussels Alexandra Wandel, Friends of the Earth Europe +49 172 748 3953 or email

    In Washington DC David Waskow, Friends of the Earth US +1 202 222 0716 or email

    In Montevideo Alberto Villarreal Friends of the Earth Uruguay +598-5228481 or email


    [1] Governments challenging these and many other national laws so far include Argentina, Bulgaria, Cuba, Egypt, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Taiwan, the United States, Venezuela and the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries. Those documents that are publicly available on the WTO's website do not reveal the country or countries whose legislation is being targeted - this column has been either left blank or altered before publication.

    [2] The WTO's Negotiating Group on Market Access is scheduled to meet in Geneva April 25-29.

    [3] The WTO's Non-Agricultural Market Access negotiations are part of the overall Doha package of negotiations. They include all sectors a priori except agriculture and service sectors. The NAMA negotiations focus on two elements - liberalization of tariffs and the removal of 'non-tariff barriers' [NTBs] or standards. This report only concerns the latter aspect focusing on the NTBs currently being challenged by governments as barriers to trade.

    [4] Full details can be found in FOEI's Analysis of Notifications of Non-tariff barriers in Non-agricultural Market Access (NAMA) negotiations of the WTO can be viewed at and the Database of Selected Notifications which can be viewed at (use this to search the database) (use this to print the database)

    [5] Most of these challenges appear to have been notified to the WTO after the initial deadline of 31 October 2004 had expired, meaning that the bulk and scope of these notifications was unexpected. These notifications imply that the governments in question either (a) consider the measures listed to be in breach of WTO rules already and therefore potential issues for dispute settlement; or (b) intend to change WTO rules to significantly extend the reach of the WTO in relation to domestic legislation previously unchallenged by the WTO. The pace of negotiations is likely to increase following a meeting of Asian trade ministers in Chiba, Japan on 10th April, who agreed that they would seek a deal on NAMA by July.

    [6] Some of the challenges are however quite specific and the country whose laws are being challenged can be inferred even if it is not explicitly mentioned (see footnotes [7] and [8] for examples). Others notifications appear to apply to generic standards such as 'national testing and certification requirements' (notified by Norway) and would presumably apply to all countries.

    [7] Japan is challenging the European Union's draft REACH legislation on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals which is intended among other to restrict the use of hazardous chemicals.

    [8] The US's National Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were passed by Congress in 1975. CAFE standards require manufacturers to maintain an average fuel economy of 27.5 miles per gallon for passenger cars and 20.7 miles per gallon for light trucks. Manufacturers face stiff fines if their annual auto fleet falls below CAFE standards.

    Also compare an account by Peter Singer from the Human Values Department of Princeton University who demonstrates the motivation by which the WTO harms the planet - people and other life alike.

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