15 December 2021
Ministerial Statement Highlights Environmentally Sustainable Trade
Photo Credit: Leighton Lum
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The draft ministerial statement was circulated on 15 November 2021 at the request of 57 WTO members.

The launch of the statement was delayed after the WTO’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference, due to start on 30 November, was postponed because of travel restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A large group of members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a ministerial statement on trade and sustainability on 15 December. The text is the result of the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD), launched in November 2020 during the WTO’s Trade and Environment Week, where 53 WTO members said they planned “to collaborate, prioritize and advance discussions on trade and environmental sustainability.”

The launch of the statement was delayed after the WTO’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC 12), due to start on 30 November, was postponed because of travel restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is one of the three ministerial statements launched on 15 December, along with statements on plastics pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade and fossil fuel subsidy reform

The ministerial statement (WT/MIN(21)/6) recognizes “sustainable development and the protection and preservation of the environment” as “fundamental goals of the WTO,” and acknowledges the role of international trade and trade policy in supporting environmental and climate objectives and promoting more sustainable consumption and production to help reach the SDGs. It also notes the importance of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) in furthering these goals, including the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement on climate change, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The document identifies “environmental sustainability as a central issue for the WTO agenda.” It describes the initiative as complementary to existing WTO processes, noting the work carried out in the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) and in other WTO bodies “where environment matters arise,” and reaffirms that the Structured Discussions “are not meant to duplicate other initiatives in the WTO” and elsewhere.

The statement highlights scientific and data-based inputs to the TESSD by stakeholders, and reiterates the commitment to continue dialogue with stakeholders while enhancing transparency. It also notes recent and ongoing efforts by WTO members to address through dialogue and information sharing issues “where trade, environmental and climate policies intersect,” such as, among others, the circular economy, natural disasters, climate change mitigation and adaptation, fossil fuel subsidies reform, plastic pollution, and conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

In the operational part of the statement, the ministers agree to:

  • Intensify work to identify concrete actions on areas of common interest “to expand opportunities for environmentally sustainable trade”;
  • Launch “dedicated discussions” to explore ways in which trade-related climate measures can contribute to climate and environmental objectives;
  • Explore opportunities and approaches to facilitate trade in environmental goods and services to meet environmental and climate objectives;
  • Compile best practices and explore “opportunities for voluntary actions and partnerships” to ensure that trade and trade policies contribute to: a more resource-efficient circular economy; sustainable supply chains; and improved access to environmental goods and services;
  • Identify challenges and opportunities for sustainable trade, including for developing and least developed countries (LDCs), and encourage capacity building and technical assistance on trade and environmental sustainability, such as through Aid for Trade; and
  • Support discussions, and the WTO’s role in addressing, “the environmental effects and trade impacts of relevant subsidies.”

Additionally, the ministers adopt a TESSD roadmap for 2022, with progress to be reviewed after one year. The roadmap, annexed to the statement, provides a timeline from February through December 2022, which envisions the adoption and implementation of a TESSD workplan based on the operational part of the MC12 statement, with a high-level stocktaking event to be convened at the end.

The draft ministerial statement was circulated on 15 November 2021 at the request of the following 57 WTO members: Albania; Australia; Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Canada; Chad; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; the Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; the EU; Fiji; Finland; France; the Gambia; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Iceland; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; the Republic of Korea; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Maldives; Malta; Mexico; Moldova; Montenegro; the Netherlands; New Zealand; North Macedonia; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Senegal; Singapore; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; the UK; and the US.

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