unctad.org | UNEP and UNCTAD join forces to promote sustainable development. Ministers to debate trade, environment and sustainable development
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UNEP and UNCTAD join forces to promote sustainable development. Ministers to debate trade, environment and sustainable development

26 September 1996

Ministers and senior officials from over 40 developing and developed countries will meet in Geneva on 30 September and 1 October to discuss how to pursue the twin aims of environmental protection and trade liberalization in the context of sustainable development.

The talks are expected to result in a message which is relevant to the first Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to be held in Singapore from 9-13 December and beyond Singapore to meetings in other international fora, such as the Commission of Sustainable Development and the Special Session of the UN in 1997.

The meeting is being organized jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and will be held at the Palais des Nations.

"The challenge facing the international community is to make the objectives of the Rio Earth Summit and the Uruguay Round mutually supportive," says Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme. "The search for a workable synthesis of trade relations and environmental realities is one of the most pressing challenges facing us today."

"It is important to keep the momentum generated by the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment going", says Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD. "UNCTAD and UNEP can contribute to this process by bringing out the development and environmental dimensions of the debate."

International co-operation on trade and environment is clearly essential to achieving simultaneously the various ecological, economic, and social goals that humanity has set for itself. The debate centers, therefore, on important issues of the environment and trade agenda, such as multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), market access, and trade liberalization.

The interdependence of these goals is already reflected in existing MEAs, such as the Montreal Protocol, the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). New agreements now under negotiation, including a protocol on biosafety and a treaty regulating trade in hazardous chemicals through the Prior Informed Consent procedure, show that trade remains an integral part of the environmental debate.

At the same time, environmental issues frequently enter into trade discussions. For example, in a number of developed countries that place a high priority on environmental protection, regulators and consumers emphasise the environmental attributes of products. The resulting environmental regulations and measures are sometimes seen to affect access to these markets by developing countries. Solutions are needed at the national and international levels to address concerns about disguised protectionism.

Another issue is that the removal of trade obstacles could contribute to a more efficient use of the Earth´s natural resources, in both economic and environmental terms. Market access for products from developing countries as well as trade liberalization are necessary, although not sufficient conditions for sustainable development. However, the environmental benefits of trade liberalization may not be automatic. Trade liberalization should be accompanied by the effective implementation of environmental policies, within the framework of national strategies for sustainable development, to realize its full potential to contribute to sustainable development. Trade liberalization can act as a magnifier of policy and market failures if appropriate environmental policies and sustainable development strategies are not implemented.

The positive relationship between trade liberalization and the environment could also be enhanced by promoting trade in environment-friendly goods. This will be particularly true if policies encourage the internalization of the environmental costs of products.

This is the third UNEP/UNCTAD ministerial meeting on trade and the environment held within a joint programme of the two organizations. Previous meetings were held at the Palais des Nations, in February 1994 and in November 1994.

The co-chairmen will brief the press on Tuesday, 1 October, at 12.30,
at the Palais des Nations (Room III), Geneva.
Journalists are also invited to meet ministers at an informal reception
outside Room XVIII, on Monday, 30 September, at 5.30 p.m.

For more information, please contact:
Gertrud Attar
T: +41 22 979 9234
F: +41 22 797 3464
E: gattar@unep.ch
Carine Richard-Van Maele, Press Officer of UNCTAD
T: +41 22 907 5816/28
F: +41 22 907 0043
E: amanda.waxman@unctad.org


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