We have a strategic program of work designed for 2020, which includes following up on all the projects we are working on, but there is more. Just one sneak peek into some of research that we are doing and another area that needs investigation – the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
As a 2016 European Parliament report states “The wildlife trade is one of the most lucrative trades in the world. The legal trade into the EU alone is worth EUR 100 billion annually”.
The report highlights that the WTO is one of the organisation considering this trade and states “Under WTO rules additional checks and regulations are permitted in cases where trade could negatively affect the environment.” [Again, from the report]: In 1994* the WTO ministers agreed to set up the Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE), and CTE has been a permanent observer at CITES since 1997. To date there have been no disputes between WTO and CITES. Although the WTO primarily acts as a regulatory framework to facilitate international trade (no shock there!)… the WTO formally accepts that exceptions to free trade rules are very important in environment related issues.
*The 1994 date is a result of the Marrakesh Agreement, where the WTO discusses the importance of optimally using the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development and seeking to protect and preserve the environment.
[Again, from the 2016 European Parliament report]: In 2015 CITES and the WTO produced a joint statement to cement co-operation between them. WTO and CITES agreed that that the well-being of economies, habitats, and societies are inextricably linked. So, let’s look at the WTO and the CTE. The Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) has a broad mandate – from the WTO website “it has contributed to identifying and understanding the relationship between trade and the environment in order to promote sustainable development.”
Currently, for example it is involved in the negotiation of the Environmental Goods Agreement. This negotiation, of 17 WTO members (Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, the European Union and its 28 member states, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Turkey and the United States), is the largest goods market access negotiation underway in the WTO. While I acknowledge that the Environmental Goods Agreement is not specifically about endangered species, it begs 3 questions:
- Why, when the WTO have been in formal ‘co-operation’ with CITES since 1994, have they not built into any multilateral trade agreement between CITES signatory parties the provision to modernise CITES and ensure global trade is transparent?
- Why is it not building into current agreements the provision for an electronic permit system, and,
- Most ominously, where is the WTO SDG “Life on Land”? Where is the acknowledgement that there is a massive trade in endangered terrestrial species (it does acknowledge Life Below Water as a SDG)? The WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) has been an observer at CITES since 1997, so claiming ignorance won’t wash!
We will share more about our work on this in 2020.