18 November 2020
WTO Members Preview Structured Discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability
Photo by IISD/ENB | Sean Wu
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The Structured Discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability will be based on a statement to be formally introduced by its sponsors in the Committee on Trade and Environment on 20 November.

The statement’s proponents aim to collaborate in advancing discussions on trade and environmental sustainability in the WTO, and agree to hold structured discussions and a dialogue with external stakeholders.

The statement is supported by a group of 49 WTO members.

The second day of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade and Environment Week started with an event organized by Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, the EU, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and Chinese Taipei ahead of the launch of the ‘Structured Discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability.’

The Structured Discussions will be based on a statement to be formally introduced by its sponsors in the Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) on 20 November. The statement is supported by a group of 49 WTO members.

In her introductory remarks, Gloria Abraham Peralta, Ambassador of Costa Rica to the WTO, referred to some of the main elements contained in the statement, which includes “ambitious and broad language” to incorporate the interests of all WTO members. She said its proponents intend “to collaborate, prioritize and advance discussions on trade and environmental sustainability” and agree to “organise structured discussions for interested WTO Members as well as a dialogue with external stakeholders.”

Chad Blackman, Ambassador of Barbados to the WTO and CTE Chair, welcomed the initiative as an opportunity to discuss the nexus between trade and environmental sustainability in the WTO by bringing together the trade and environment community and a broader set of actors, including the global private sector. He emphasized the role of trade financing to enable developing countries’ participation in the circular economy.

Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director, International Trade Centre (ITC), said the initiative sends “a signal that we are ready to return to the table to tackle global problems by trying to develop global solutions” to address climate change and environmental risks. She said the Structured Discussions will provide an inclusive platform for WTO members with smaller and larger economies to debate and exchange good practices on environmental issues and trade and “put forward concrete proposals centered on the SDGs.”

John Denton, Secretary General, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), highlighted the WTO’s role in addressing the challenges of the 21st century such as biodiversity loss and climate change. He said trade policy “must work in tandem with efforts to find solutions” to global challenges.

Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General of the UN and Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said the Structured Discussions seek to “reassert the importance of environmental sustainability as a high priority for the global trading system” and “shape the path forward” on issues critical to trade and the SDGs. She highlighted the initiative’s potential to help “bridge the silos between trade and environment” and make supply chains “greener, cleaner and more equitable.”

Alan Wolff, WTO Deputy Director-General, said the initiative reflects “the urgent need to fulfil the WTO’s role as a steward of sustainability in global trade” and can act as “a catalyst for strong collective action on sustainable trade.” He underscored the potential of trade policies to support sustainability by improving access to technologies at competitive prices, helping green businesses scale up, boosting investment and innovation in clean sectors, and creating green and decent jobs.

Wolff outlined elements for the Structured Discussions’ future work programme, including elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade in environmental goods and services, fossil fuel subsidies reform, promotion of a global circular economy, and the “strengthening of the mutual supportiveness” between trade and the climate action agenda. He highlighted the discussions’ potential to help “the smallest and poorest countries identify green financing sources to develop skills and supply capacity for trade infrastructure” to participate in the green economy.

Peter Wooders, Senior Director, Energy, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), emphasized the need for discussions on environment and sustainability to be placed at the center of international economic governance to achieve the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change. He highlighted the role of multilateral cooperation in reforming fossil fuel subsidies, stopping the funding of overfishing, promoting sustainable agriculture, and making economies more circular. Wooders emphasized that proposals to meet these global objectives should:

  • have a significant and credible impact on sustainable development;
  • address the development dimension by going beyond technical assistance; and
  • aim for a multilateral outcome while supporting the CTE’s work.

To close the session, Stephen De Boer, Ambassador of Canada to the WTO, indicated that the first meeting of the Structured Discussions will be held in early 2021. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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