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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 11: 99: Battle for Free Trade
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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 12:12 GMT
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.

The battle for free trade
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.

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.

Mike Moore: trade and environment not in conflict
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.

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.

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