Antoni's Wire Service

Date: Sat, 21 Nov 1998 20:50:39 -0400 (AST)
From: Antoni Wysocki <>
To: Undisclosed recipients
Subject: green WTO analog promoted

Hi y'all,

A week or two ago I passed along word that Renato Ruggiero, outgoing Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), had called for the creation of a sister institution concerned with environmental issues. Now BRIDGES reports that French President Jacques Chirac has publicly boosted a similar initiative.

In principle one cannot but applaud the concept of a multilateral forum for coordinating ecological policies but the promotion of such an institution by the WTO leaves me highly suspicious. From its inception the WTO has consistently rebuffed attempts to put environmental (and labor) issues onto its agenda with the ingenuous claim that the WTO dealt strictly with trade matters (as if somehow production and vending could take place "outside" of ecosystems and without inputs from workers).

"Free trade" advocates, such as Columbia University's Jhagdish Bhagwati, have warned that it is becoming increasingly difficult to preserve the WTO's monomaniacal stance (if you'll forgive my paraphrasing a bit). My guess is that Ruggiero, having taken note, is floating the notion of a World Environment Organization to take some of the heat off the WTO. If this were to come to pass a WEO would at best approximate the "watchdogs" created by the NAFTA side agreements on labor and the environment. These bodies, possessing no regulatory powers, can do nothing more than release occasional finger-pointing reports on abuses they have uncovered.

Chirac's suggestion is less easily dismissed. To begin with he calls for a WEO associated with the UN system (like the International Labor Organization or ILO) rather than the WTO. Though the UN is hardly immune to corporate influence, unlike the WTO it is not completely given over to neoliberalism. Furthermore, Chirac does not let the WTO off the hook but rather says that it also must "take environmental issues into account".

Ultimately it is not clear to me if the creation of a WEO is a useful project at this time, even under Chirac's formula. As long as the WTO continues to possess a plenitude of power any other institution can be expected to exert a very limited influence on policymakers.

To my mind a more promising strategy is to pursue the derogation of the WTO itself. As Bhagwati fears, the most effective means of accomplishing this might well be forcing the WTO to accept that trade issues cannot rationally or justly be divorced from issues of human rights, culture and the natural world.


BRIDGES Weekly Trade News Digest - Vol. 2, Number 44
November 16, 1998 (excerpt)

The World Conservation Union (IUCN), the world's largest environmental group, this month appointed Dr. Maritta Koch-Weser to the post of Director General of the organisation. Dr. Koch-Weser, who will succeed current Director General David McDowell in January 1999, is the first woman IUCN Director General post. "IUCN-The world conservation union appoints new Director General," IUCN PRESS RELEASE, November 9, 1998.

Early in November, at IUCN's 50th anniversary event in Fontainebleau in France, French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Alain Juppe both called for the creation of a World Environment Organisation, saying it should fall to UNEP to gather together the secretariats of the inernational environmental conventions to progressively create a World Environment Organisation. Jacques Chirac also called for the WTO to take environmental issues into account. "Chirac, champion du monde de la nature," LIBERATION, November 4, 1998; "Jacques Chirac propose la creation d'une 'autorite mondiale' pour 'evaluer' l'environnement," LE MONDE, November 4, 1998; ICTSD Internal Files.