Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK

Business: The Economy

WTO hits back at eco-critics

Environmental groups say that trade can damage the environment

The World Trade Organisation has defended itself against environmentalists who say it shows no respects for animals, humans or the environment.

With just six weeks to go before a major conference in Seattle launches a new round of global trade talks, environmentalists are planning to organise mass protests.

[ image: Mike Moore: trade and environment not in conflict]
Mike Moore: trade and environment not in conflict
But Mike Moore, the WTO's newly-appointed Director-General, argues that poverty, not trade, is the real enemy of the environment.

In a new report, the WTO argues that trade and the environment can be reconciled in a "win-win" scenario.

In his introduction, Mr Moore said:
"Every WTO member government supports open trade because it leads to higher living standards for working families which in turn leads to a cleaner environment. This report underscores that trade and environment need not be contradictory but can indeed be complementary,"

Threat to the environment

But his message cuts little ice with campaigners who are mobilising support against the WTO, saying fair trade rules often clash with environmental goals.

Friends of the Earth says the WTO threatens our air, water, food, forests, consumer choice and species protection.

As an example they point to sea turtles, saying the number one human threat to the turtles is drowning in shrimp nets.

The US has a law blocking the imports of shrimp from countries whose shrimp fleets kill turtles.

[ image: Beef imports become a bone of contention]
Beef imports become a bone of contention
Friends of the Earth argues that under WTO rules, it is usually illegal to distinguish between similar products based on the way they were produced so, in the eyes of the WTO, shrimp caught using methods that kill sea turtles are the same as shrimp caught using safe methods.

Peter Roberts, Founder of the UK-based Compassion in World Farming, has written to his members asking them to target the UK government and European Union, in a bid to get them to take a lead at the Seattle conference.

"The WTO has rules that take away each government's right to stop imports of cruel products and their right to refuse to export their animals for long journeys to slaughter abroad.

"To the WTO, there is no difference between a leg of lamb and a lamb's leg.To the WTO an egg is just an egg - it refuses to see a difference between a battery egg and a free range egg.

"The WTO even fails human victims of oppression - it will not allow countries to ban the import of carpets made by slave or child labour" he added.

No evidence

The WTO says there is little evidence that globalisation causes companies to move to areas where environmental standards are lowest.

It also says studies that have compared the profitability of firms in the same industry have not found much evidence that companies with high environmental standards are less profitable than others.

It says that failure to tackle global environmental issues stems from a failure by global institutions to deal with issues of common concern.

Forces mobilising

The question of environmental standards is likely to prove a major battleground at the Seattle trade talks.

European countries have already been mobilising their publics in opposition to further import of agricultural products they consider suspect on health grounds, such as genetically modified food, following the trade row with the United States over hormone-treated beef. The EU was fined by the WTO but has still refused to admit the US beef, citing further health studies.

US Agriculture Under-secretary Gus Schumacher has already warned that America would take action if Europe continued to drag its feet in approving new GM crops and foods.

The Seattle summit - at ministerial level - is supposed to be the launchpad for the first global trade negotiations since the marathon eight-year Uruguay round ended in 1994.

The talks - dubbed the millennium round - are expected to last three years.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |

The Economy Contents

Internet Links

World Trade Organisation

Friends of the Earth

Compassion in World Farming

EU Directorate General for Trade

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Inquiry into energy provider loyalty

Brown considers IMF job

Chinese imports boost US trade gap

No longer Liffe as we know it

The growing threat of internet fraud

House passes US budget

Online share dealing triples

Rate fears as sales soar

Brown's bulging war-chest

Oil reaches nine-year high

UK unemployment falls again

Trade talks deadlocked

US inflation still subdued

Insolvent firms to get breathing space

Bank considered bigger rate rise

UK pay rising 'too fast'

Utilities face tough regulation

CBI's new chief named

US stocks hit highs after rate rise

US Fed raises rates

UK inflation creeps up

Row over the national shopping basket

Military airspace to be cut

TUC warns against following US

World growth accelerates

Union merger put in doubt

Japan's tentative economic recovery

EU fraud costs millions

CBI choice 'could wreck industrial relations'

WTO hails China deal

US business eyes Chinese market

Red tape task force

Websites and widgets

Guru predicts web surge

Malaysia's economy: The Sinatra Principle

Shell secures Iranian oil deal

Irish boom draws the Welsh

China deal to boost economy

US dream scenario continues

Japan's billion dollar spending spree