Over the past two years, there has been growing discussion in a number of WTO settings on the best practices and principles related to the design and implementation of trade-related climate measures, including in the CTE and in the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD), where a working group is focused on such measures. Most recently, in mid-July, a submission on Principles guiding the development and implementation of trade-related environmental measures (Guiding Principles) was circulated at the request of the African Group to various WTO committees and councils. The Guiding Principles seek to address concerns of the African Group related to the unilateral nature of trade and environment approaches adopted by many developed countries. The document aims to provide a framework for future discussions on trade-related environmental measures, highlighting the “need to shift the narrative regarding the trade-environment nexus, with more emphasis on how to address the harmful impacts of trade or trade agreements on the environment, while recognizing the need of developing countries”.
The Guiding Principles document also suggests an increased openness from the African Group to recognize the WTO as a place to discuss trade and the environment issues. Indeed, it emphasizes that the CTE would be well positioned to host discussions on triangular issues. Moreover, the Guiding Principles document highlights “[t]his is not about being for or against the protection of the environment. Rather, it is about […] tak[ing] into account the unintended consequences of environmental measures on trade […] and recogniz[ing] the interests and the needs of developing countries.” In other words, as advocated by the abovementioned Triangle Paper, the emphasis is not on the “why” of environmental measures, but on the “what” and the “how”.
While the EU TPR, and the important emerging discussion on guiding principles, can serve as stepping stones to the creation of a Global Triangle Forum within the WTO, developing a consensus about the “how” and the “what” of such a forum will not be easy. The recent July 23-25 General Council meeting offered a glimpse into member’s different approaches. While China offered its full support for the Guiding Principles, the EU has expressed interest in fostering engagement between members but disagreed with the specific approach adopted by the African Group. Different reactions from WTO members with regards to the list of principles developed by the African Group does not suggest that trade-environment-development discussions at the WTO are a dead end. Rather, it points to the important task ahead of framing a set of basic principles in a way that enables mutual understanding and cooperation between members as opposed to a situation in which countries campaign to include overly prescriptive approaches on how these principles should operate and be implemented.
In this regard, the fact that countries are making submissions centred around the trade-environment-development nexus in the General Council can be considered a positive sign towards developing a Global Triangle Forum—either nested within existing committees or a stand-alone platform—to foster dialogue and cooperation on the trade, environment, and development nexus at the WTO.
Pascal Lamy is Vice President of the Paris Peace Forum and President of the European branch of the Brunswick Group. He coordinates the Jacques Delors Institutes.
Geneviève Pons is Director General and Vice President of Europe Jacques Delors.
Colette van der Ven is Founder and Director of TULIP Consulting. She is Senior Associate Researcher at Europe Jacques Delors.
Cláudia Azevedo is Junior Policy Analyst at Europe Jacques Delors.