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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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