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International Trade and the Environment: The WTO and the New Beginning

Robert Page

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The world trading community is at a crossroads with the birth of the WTO. Important work in institutional reform was achieved with the creation of the WTO, including its trade and environment committee. But the intensity of the debate on issues, and the divisions within the global community will probably ensure that progress will be very slow, especially on issues which divide the North and the South. The mandate of the Trade and Environment Committee will be reviewed at the end of two years, and changes will probably be necessary. However, many countries, including Canada, have limited expectations of this committee and, therefore, there may be only limited pressure for changes at that time. The major problem is that the environmental issues to be handled effectively, require structural changes which trigger fears of unilateralism and protectionism. Thus far, the need for sustainable development in trade policies and practices have not overcome these fears of change. Over the next two years, events will help to define that debate, as will the work of other related bodies like OECD, NAFTA, and other regional trade bodies. Environment and trade will be one of the most interesting, complex, and contentious issues for the new WTO as it combines issues of philosophy, structure, and practice.

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