Select Committee on Environmental Audit Second Report


40. The Government has accepted our conclusion in a previous report that "international agreements on issues such as trade, investment, employment standards and environmental protection should be the subject of focussed negotiations in appropriately expert fora. However, we regard it as imperative that in these fora the relationships between the proposals under discussion and other initiatives, whether existing or in development, are fully analysed from the outset. Such analyses must look both at the risks of conflict and the opportunities for confluence".[80] However, we were unconvinced that this approach has been put into operation with regard to the WTO negotiations.

41. The main initiatives identified for us were the EU's Sustainability Impact Assessment which is being conducted by UK consultants, two seminars at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and work by the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Cabinet Office (PIU) on a strategy for 'ethical' non-trade issues at the WTO (this latter work did not, to our surprise, rate a mention in the Government's submission to us).[81] Ministers and officials seemed relaxed about the timetable for appraisal asserting that nothing will actually be negotiated at Seattle and confident that "nothing very much" will have occurred by way of negotiations by Spring next year. Mr Bridge, DTI, assured us that trade negotiations proceed slowly and take a long time.[82]

42. The Performance and Innovation Unit report is set for completion by May 2000. The first phase of the SIA, the definition of a methodology, has been completed. The second phase, a broad assessment of the EU's negotiating objectives, is set for completion by the Seattle summit. A third phase will commence once an agenda has been agreed and will use the methodology developed to inform the Commission's negotiations throughout their course. In addition to this work we understand that at least Canada and the US are committed to environmental impact appraisals. There appears to be a consensus, including at the WTO, that there should be cooperation between international partners to share the results of the various studies.

43. We welcome these initiatives. However, we intended the phrase "from the outset" to cover the selection and framing of negotiating objectives as well as to inform discussions on the scope of the agenda. Assessing negotiating objectives for their impacts on sustainability, or anything else, after they have been set seems like conducting an environmental impact assessment for an airport after planning permission has been granted and construction begun. The only remaining task is to identify possible mitigation measures. NGOs criticised the work underway on similar grounds and argued that the objectives for both the PIU study and the EU contract were too narrow excluding, for example, the possibility of making recommendations for changes to mainstream proposals such as the sequencing of the implementation of liberalisation initiatives to allow the development of complementary regulatory capacity.[83] Mr Mabey, WWF UK, told us that the EU SIA did not itself claim to be anything more than a scoping study designed to identify, from a theoretical point of view, where the real work needed to be done. He said this did not perhaps fulfill the claims made on its behalf by Government.[84] In terms of the timetable, Mr Mabey said that the study would have been of more benefit if it had been started, alongside other preparations for the Round, two years ago.[85] We accept Mr Meacher's response to this that it was always better if such things were started before they were, but we believe that a central lesson of the MAI experience had been that the environmental dimension deserved consideration alongside the other facets of sustainable development.

44. We are concerned that once again environmental considerations have not been integrated into the development of mainstream policy development but left to a later stage in terms of both preparatory analysis and strategy development.

45. A further key position of the NGOs is that ex post 'audit' of the implications of implementing the Uruguay Round was the only sensible foundation for ex ante appraisal of further negotiations.[86] NGOs state that the EU has steadfastly refused to undertake such an assessment of the Uruguay Round. Mr Meacher said the pressure for further negotiations was building but that he accepted "that part of those negotiations will certainly involve trying to take note of lessons that arise from the Uruguay Round."[87] We believe that new negotiations should do more than try to take note of lessons from previous agreements. It seems axiomatic that the impacts of the last set of agreements should be informing negotiations of the next. This is unlikely to be accomplished by individual WTO members acting in a piecemeal way, but needs some explicit agreement within the Organisation, as well as inclusion in any Declaration intended to shape negotiations.

80  First Report from the Committee, 1998-99, Multilateral Agreement on Investment, HC58, paragraph 25. And see Appendix to the Report. Back

81  Ev p. 3 Back

82  See QQ36 and 44 Back

83  QQ64 and 118 Back

84  Q76 Back

85  Q56 Back

86  Q121 Back

87  Q136 Back

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Prepared 25 November 1999