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

Robert Page

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Dispute Settlement Mechanism

The disputesettlement mechanism is one of the areas of real change from the GATT. New procedures include consultation, conciliation, dispute panels, option for outside advisory groups, and appeals to the new appellate body. Panels must now proceed on schedule, and their reports will not be adopted unless there is a consensus opposed in the central body of the WTO. Environmentalists are still unhappy with the level of secrecy and the optional nature of utilizing outside expert advice. Proceedings are confidential except that, on the request of a WTO member, a nonconfidential summary of documents may be released to the public. The NGO community has no formal standing in the process, and any expert input requested by the panel must be from persons of "professional standing and experience in the field." The NGO community might dispute the conclusion of the Canadian government that "by allowing WTO members to make nonconfidential summaries of the submissions of the parties to a dispute...goes a long way in increasing transparency in the settlement of trade disputes."[7] But this is at least some progress from past GATT practices.

Given the other international financial, environmental, and development institutions with interest in the issues related to environment and trade, there is an essential need for cooperation and coordination of efforts. From the beginning, the Committee has granted to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the UN and UNCTAD observer status. In the fall of 1994, seven more organizations and agencies were added, including UNEP, ITC, UNDP, OECD, and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. These efforts by the Committee to reach out to other bodies are important initiatives, given the way that the issues of environment and trade cut across institutional mandates. Information flows may not solve the problems, but may help to limit them. It is inevitable that some jurisdictional rivalries emerge. However, the NGO community looks at these observers as precedents for their own inclusion.

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