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Re: E-M:/ Certification of Forests

Enviro-Mich message from Murphwild1@aol.com

Global Forest Protection vs The New WTO Agenda

by Victor Menotti Director of the IFG Environment Program

The world's forest are on the chopping block at the World Trade Organization 
(WTO). When trade ministers  meet in Seattle at the WTO's Third Ministerial, 
November 30 - December 3, 1999, they plan to introduce a sweeping new agenda 
to increase worldwide consumption of wood products, open up native forests to 
logging, weaken environmental protections, and openthe door to invasive 
species.  The most urgent initiative is a new forestproducts agreement that 
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky told Congress is a top 
negotiating priority.  A number of other agenda items could have even greater 
impacts on forests.  Advising her are executives from Weyerhaeuser, Boise 
Cascade, International Paper, and Georgia-Pacific. No one representing 
protections for forests or workers is at the table. Below is an overview of 
the new WTO Agenda for forests.

Stimulating Demand for Wood Products

New Forest Agreement:  The U.S. is pushing to complete by December a new 
agreement on forest products separate from the broader WTO agenda so as not
to get bogged down.  The agreement focuses on reducing what the industry 
considers "barriers to trade."  The result will be cost reductions for wood 
products consumers, stimulating demand and intensifying logging.  While the 
current scope of talks covers only tariffs (import taxes), negotiations are 
expected to introduce "non-tariffs," which can refer to anything, even 
environmental laws.  The U.S. and other big exporters want total elimination 
of tariffs on wood products worldwide, particularly in the enormous
Japanese and Korean markets.  Regarding non-tariffs, of most concern to 
forest protection advocates are things such as customs procedures at national 
borders intended to prevent the entry of invasive species. "Bioinvasion" is 
now the second leading cause of species extinction in the world, after 
habitat destruction.  Also, the timber industry is targeting local building 
codes that require the use of non-wood materials; their elimination could 
further stimulate demand for wood products.   Non-tariff measures are not yet 
officially on the table, but industry leaders are preparing to introduce them.

Weakening Protections against Invasive Species

The WTO sets strict limits on what governments can do to prevent the
entry of invasive species via a binding agreement known as the Sanitary and 
Phyto-Sanitary, or SPS, Agreement.  While the SPS Agreement currently forbids 
countries from enacting some of the most effective safeguards that could 
minimize bioinvasion risks, the U.S. and other countries are advancing 
proposals that could make even existing safeguards challengeable (illegal) as 
a barrier to trade.  Another emerging form of biological pollution, the 
unregulated spread of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), is under 
discussion at the WTO.  The increasing use of gentically-modified varieties 
of tree seeds poses risks to native forests, where unwanted GMOs may migrate, 
further mutate, multiply, or transfer to other organisms and species, often 
with unpredictable results.  Proposed rules for the trade in biotechnology 
products would prevent governments from taking measures to stop GMOs from 
entering their country.
Opening Up Native Forests

Logging corporations are increasingly going abroad in search of larger forest 
reserves and less costly labor and environmental regulations. The WTO is 
preparing to introduce a broad agenda to protect such foreign investments.  
Among the ideas being advanced is that of National Treatment, which would 
require nations to treat foreign investors on the same terms as domestic 
ones.  Brazil, Russia, Mexico, and other countries with significant tracts of 
native forests have traditionally limited foreign access to natural resources 
to prevent their exploitation from being determined by absentee owners.  WTO 
investment rules would institutionalize "cut-and run" logging around the 
world and prevent governments from favoring local entities which may tend to 
be more accountable to the land and its inhabitants.

Weakening Environmental Protections

Also on the investment agenda is a new definition of "expropriation"
that would allow foreign investors to sue governments for passing legislation 
that reduces profits from a planned investment.  If approved, newgovernment 
measures to protect forests (or anything in the public interest) could be 
challenged as an illegal "expropriation" that requires full cash compensation 
to the foreign investor.  Known by critics as the "Pay the Polluter" 
principle, the WTO's proposed investment rules would send a chill over new 
environmental protections around the globe.

Threatening Certification Initiatives

American industry is feeling a real squeeze from competitors who operate in
countries with little or no environmental regulation or enforcement. 
Realizing that they cannot compete on such unequal terms, they now want to 
create a set of  harmonized global rules to "level the playing field." If 
adopted, industry-set standards would lock-down weak protections in countries 
where there is major logging of native forests still to be
done (Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, etc.), while opening up 
stronger protections (as in the U.S.) to challenge under the WTO.  The WTO 
has undertaken a broad discussion on adopting industry-defined 
standardsthrough the International Standards Organization (ISO), and is also 
considering eco-labeling rules that could define some certification schemes 
as potential barriers to trade.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs?

Department of Commerce statistics show that as wood products exports
have increased from the U.S., employment in the sector has decreased.  This 
relationship undermines the conventional wisdom that increased exports create 
more jobs.  What's going on?  As companies compete more directly in 
globalized markets, they are automating production (which requires less 
workers) to increase their competitiveness.  As of 1996, the Department of 
Labor's Trade Adjustment Assistance program had certifie over 5,500 U.S. 
workers in the forest products sector who have lost their jobs as a result of 
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed 
without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the 
included information for research and educational purposes.

Margrete Strand Rangnes
MAI Project Coordinator
Public Citizen Global Trade Watch
215 Pennsylvania Ave, SE
Washington DC, 20003 USA
202-546 4996, ext. 306
202-547 7392 (fax)

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