The Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade focused on international cooperation and transparency.
UNCTAD and the WTO Secretariat described challenges in collecting data on trade in plastics.
Some members expressed their support for preparing a factual report and reaching a ministerial declaration on the issue by MC12.
The Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade discussed World Trade Organization (WTO) members’ efforts to reduce plastics pollution and promote sustainable trade in plastics, with a focus on international cooperation and transparency. The Informal Dialogue aims to establish a “solid factual basis” on the topic with the aim of reaching an outcome at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), which is scheduled for late 2021.
A group of WTO members launched the Informal Dialogue in November 2020 to address the increasing environmental, health, and economic costs of plastic pollution. The group is open to all WTO members and currently has 14 participants. The Informal Dialogue convened on 29 March 2021, alongside the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE).
Chargé d’Affaires Anare Leweniqila (Fiji), one of the group’s coordinators, invited all WTO members to provide comments on a concept note and a roadmap, circulated by proponents on 24 March, to help members move towards an outcome by MC12. The concept note focuses on technical work to improve international cooperation and transparency in the area of trade in plastics. The roadmap proposes a ministerial declaration as a potential outcome at MC12.
Ambassador Omar Zniber (Morocco), another coordinator of the group, suggested continued discussions on international cooperation and transparency could serve as a basis for a factual report in support of a ministerial declaration, and encouraged WTO members to join and co-sponsor the initiative. Some members expressed their support for preparing a factual report and reaching a ministerial declaration on the issue by MC12.
Dialogue participants aimed to identify where data are missing and to learn about the efforts of other international organizations and stakeholders to explore the potential role of the WTO and trade in supporting international efforts. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the WTO Secretariat described challenges in collecting data on trade in plastics. UNCTAD outlined its joint study with the Graduate Institute, Geneva, on trade data across the entire life cycle of plastics. The WTO Secretariat shared information on members’ notifications on measures related to trade in plastics, observing that the majority of the 129 measures identified in the WTO Environmental Database were notified in the last few years. The Secretariat said approximately half of the measures were notified in draft format, suggesting the potential to enhance sharing of best practices and voluntary peer learning.
Members cautioned against duplicating what has been done in other international initiatives. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said it intends to synergize work on plastics under the Basel Convention with the WTO’s efforts through collaboration with the Informal Dialogue on opportunities to coherently and efficiently address plastic pollution. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted the upcoming Global Plastic Outlook, a toolkit on relevant trade policies and future scenarios. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) offered to help support developing countries’ actions. The World Economic Forum (WEF) highlighted its Global Plastics Action Partnership and a pilot case study on advancing national plastics action strategies in Ghana.
Deputy Permanent Representative Patricia Ann Homes (Australia), another coordinator of the group, emphasized transparency is key to filling in the information gap in policy and regulations. She said Australia plans to engage with the private sector to gather additional information about consumers’ concerns. Ambassador Jose Valencia (Ecuador), one of the group’s coordinators, stressed the importance of countries to cooperate and develop new technologies.
On the WTO’s role, Ambassador Chad Blackman (Barbados), a coordinator of the group, suggested the WTO create a central platform for monitoring and evaluating developments in global plastic production, trade flow, and supply chains, which he said would complement existing work. Homes also suggested the WTO Secretariat could assist in collecting relevant information. Ambassador Chenggang Li (China), one of the group’s coordinators, said the WTO should focus on studying the production and use of plastics across their life cycle, and supported including sustainability as one of the topics for WTO reform.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala welcomed the group’s discussions, and emphasized the role of trade in “ensuring the transition towards an environmentally sustainable plastics economy.” She noted the negative impact of plastic waste on the environment, and said the Informal Dialogue is raising the “right questions” about the potential contribution of trade and the WTO to these efforts.
The Informal Dialogue plans to meet again to discuss assessing capacity and technical assistance needs, strengthening policy coherence, and identifying the scope for collective approaches. The next meeting will potentially be in June, back-to-back with the next meeting of the CTE. [WTO Press Release]