Monday, February 6, 2012

Environmental WTO on the cards?

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is often faced with the challenge of dealing with issues other than international trade like environment, labour and human rights. There are strong views on either side of the debate - while one side recognises the limitations of WTO addressing these issues and the possibility that it would be used as a protectionist tool by developed countries, the contrary view is that WTO must address all issues related to making international trade more efficient, sustainable and humane.

In all these debates the effectiveness of the WTO as an international organisation and  its ability to enforce rules of international law seem to be the guiding factors. The strong dispute settlement mechanisms and the treaty based approach of the organisation is a tribute to its perceived effectiveness that compels stakeholders to insist that issues other than international trade be brought within the prism of the international organisation's mandate to ensure compliance in an otherwise weak institutional setting.

This piece brings another idea to the table: creation of a United Nations environmental agency following the model of the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the International Labor Organization (ILO). 

"The idea to create an United Nations environmental agency following the model of the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the International Labor Organization (ILO) is growing. The proposal to create the World Environment Organization (WEA) came from European Union and it is being discussed by France and Germany and can be one of the major achievements of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in June, in Rio de Janeiro. 
More than one hundred countries support the strengthening of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The UNEP would be the natural embryo for the new environment agency. Various countries suggest the creation of the WEA or a similar agency. The emergence of the agency could be a strong decoy to attract large number of leaders to the Rio +20 and it could ensure the success of the event. 
However, the establishment of the World Environment Organization (WEO) has strong opponents. The United States does not want to even hear about it. Historically, the USA does not accept agreements or international organizations that can interfere in its own domestic decisions. Moreover, the American resistance is a great obstacle for the idea. Ironically, but for other reasons, the USA is aligned in this position with Venezuela, Cuba e Bolivia. The Latin countries fear that such an agency will serve to mask protectionist trade actions of rich countries."

Is an environmental WTO on the cards? It would be interesting to see how these international organisations operate when disputes touch areas of trade and environment. While the goal of the reduction of trade barriers and facilitating international flow of goods and services, albeit with constant rumblings, is accepted as the way to go, is there a clear vision for an environmental agreement to be enforced by an international organisation?

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