Environmental Goods

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Doha Ministerial Declaration para. 31(iii) on

Environmental Goods


Environmental Goods are considered in this section primarily in the context of the Doha negotiations on environmental issues. The objective of the negotiations on para. 31 (iii) of the Doha Ministerial Declaration (DMD) concerns "the reduction or, as appropriate, elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services," the rationale being that lowered customs tariffs will facilitate the acquisition of these goods in importing countries, which will be to the benefit of the environment. These negotiations have been advancing very slowly and with considerable difficulty over the past five years, primarily, so it may be explained, because the strategies aimed at liberalizing Environmental Goods and Services (EGS) vary considerably, especially between the developing and the industrialized countries, but also within these coalitions. Since environmental services are negotiated as part of the wider services process at the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) Council, we shall focus in this section primarily on the Environmental Goods negotiations at the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Environment in Special Session (CTESS).


Paragraph 31 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration represents the corner stone of the integration -- for the first time in the more than 50 years of GATT/WTO history -– of environmental concerns in WTO negotiation processes, even though it needs to be emphasized that the mandates for these negotiations are very focused and limited. For instance the above-mentioned goal of paragraph 31 (iii) leaves aside some of the central considerations which would enhance the development and dissemination of these goods and services. Negotiations on paragraph 31, nevertheless, remain highly significant, both as opportunities to advance -- even if in small ways -- the mutual supportiveness between trade and environment, and as precedents for future discussions and negotiations of these issues in the multilateral trading system. All other debates at the CTE 'regular' are in fact non-binding discussions.


Moreover, it is important to note that the objective of the relatively specific DMD is to launch what is officially called by the  WTO the Doha Development Agenda. Its first eleven preambular paragraphs thus describe the aspiration of making a contribution to the wider goal of development, going well beyond tariff and non-tariff negotiations and specifically including objectives such as the alleviation of poverty. Furthermore, the DMD notes in its preamble that “well targeted, sustainably financed technical assistance and capacity-building programmes have important roles to play.” As a result, even narrow mandates must take into account broader sustainable issues in order for the Doha Round to deliver on its promise of making a developmental contribution. The need and importance of integrating these issues, for example of considering technology transfer-related issues in negotiations on environmental goods, is thus increasingly recognized.


These negotiations undoubtedly turned out to be more difficult than originally expected. In order to stimulate and facilitate these negotiations and the wider debate on this issue, a Roundtable on Environmental Goods and Technology Transfer has taken place on March 14, 2007, see Summary. It has been organized jointly by the University of Geneva’s Law Faculty, HEI, UNCTAD, UNEP, and INECE. It is part of a wider project financed by the university’s Geneva International Academic Network (RUIG/GIAN) and coordinated by the Faculty of Law's Professor Anne Petitpierre.


Most industrialized countries support what is called an environmental list approach which is built on an elaborate list of environmental goods. Attempts at defining such lists, however, proved to be very divisive. An alternative approach centres on the temporary liberalization of goods which would be liberalized during the construction of major environmental projects such as incinerators. This environmental project approach introduced by the Indian delegation in four versions [1], as well as an Integrated Approach submitted by the Argentinean delegation[2] were rejected by many Members, especially industrialized ones, who insist that their environmental list approach alone is compatible with WTO provisions and processes. This list approach in turn is criticized by many developing countries for making it impossible to integrate the DMD’s development mandate, especially technology transfer, and for serving primarily the purpose of trade liberalization rather than the protection of the environment. The analysis by Robert Howse and Petrus B. van Bork (ICTSD, 2006) discusses options for liberalizing from different countries' view point. The discussion of Technology Transfer by Lynn Mytelka (ICTSD, 2007) on the other hand sketches out possibilities of reconciling liberalization and technology transfer. At a point in time when the Doha negotiations have been rekindled at the January 2007 World Economic Forum’s Davos meeting, positions presently appear to be very polarized.


Last but not least, the TRIPS Agreement and the protection of patents and other forms of intellectual property are often cited as an obstacle to facilitating technology transfer, which many argue is a key component of a trade-related development agenda - and that problematic very much includes the negotiations on Environmental Goods. This obstacle may be less insurmountable than common perceptions might suggest because of the important role played by tacit knowledge (Lynn Mytelka, 2007) in manufacturing. Thus there might be some space to manoeuvre if ways can be found to help developing countries achieve more diversified production and export capacities through a stronger reliance on freely available tacit knowledge. It has been suggested that a better use could be made of the relatively closed systems which are constituted by the WTO Agreements, certain UN bodies (e.g. UNCTAD, UNIDO or UNDP), and the World Bank. The Brundtland Commission twenty years ago tried to reconcile priorities and constraints which are often difficult to integrate, followed five years later by the Rio Conference. The creation of the WTO in 1994 of course established a new and very powerful regulatory order which in many ways is much more rigid, but which nevertheless does offer developing and least developed countries certain special and differential provisions that are intended to support technical assistance and capacity building programs.


Literature on Environmental Goods


ICTSD's section on Environmental Goods and Services in its Trade & Environment.org portal features the largest number of in depth articles on this topic available anywhere 



UNCTAD's Trade and Environment Review Volume 2003: EGSs - Defining Negotiations or Negotiating Definitions? By Alexey Vikhlyaev


Complete Volume 2003 including Commentaries



[1] TN/TE/W/51, 3 June, 2005; TN/TE/W/54, 4 July, 2005; TN/TE/W/60 19 September, 2005; TN/TE/W/67, 13 June, 2006.

[2] TN/TE/W/62, 14 October, 2005.