Select Committee on Environmental Audit Second Report


7. The Government is committed to protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development. The Government's memorandum asserts that liberalising trade can help ensure that resources are used efficiently, and to generate the wealth necessary for environmental improvement and for the spread of cleaner technology and environmental goods and services. However, the Government's simultaneous recognition that "where economic activity is unsustainable, trade can act to magnify this"[11] was welcomed by other witnesses.[12] A recent report from the WTO secretariat on trade and the environment argues similarly that there is no basis for sweeping generalisations that trade is good or bad for the environment but that the need for sound policies at national and international levels on environmental protection are reinforced by economic globalisation.[13]

8. The European Commission's Communication on the Millennium Round states that "a central benchmark of the New Round should be the WTO's overall objective of sustainable development"[14] and the conclusions of the October General Affairs Council stated that there was a need to ensure that an appropriate balance between liberalisation and the strengthening of multilateral rules contributes to "sustainable development. Environmental protection, social progress, the reduction in poverty and consumer health."[15]

9. Evidence from the Environment Agency, English Nature and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) was unanimous in calling for international economic liberalisation to be explicitly recognised as one tool amongst others to achieve multilateral and national policy objectives of sustainable development rather than as an end in itself.[16] The WTO needed to be reoriented towards 'better' rather than simply 'freer' trade with the emphasis on an assessment of the outcomes and impacts of liberalisation proposals, on a case-by-case basis, in terms of the three sustainable development objectives: economic, environmental and social.[17] This approach should be founded upon a more comprehensive and empirical analysis of the impacts of the Uruguay Round.[18]

11  Ev p.1 Back

12  See Q58 Back

13  Special Studies No. 4: Trade and Environment, 8 October 1999, WTO Back

14  Communication from the European Commission, The EU Approach to the WTO Millennium Round,10297/99 (hereafter the 'Commission Communication'), p.14. Back

15  Ev p.105 Back

16  See ev pp. 27, 45, 101 and 103  Back

17  Ibid, and see Q58 Back

18  See ev pp.16, 31 and 45 Back

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Prepared 25 November 1999