The WTO, the Environment, Health and Safety

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Nearly a decade and a half of the WTO's operation have produced ample evidence that the WTO has undermined health, safety and environmental standards, human rights advocacy efforts, and democratic accountability in policy-making in the U.S. and worldwide. The newest environmental casualty of the WTO - as addressed by GTW's Lori Wallach and the Peterson Institute for International Economics' C. Fred Bergsten in a joint Washington Post op-ed - could be efforts to address the imminent climate change crisis.

Historically, the Venezuela Gas, Tuna-Dolphin and Shrimp-Turtle cases revealed a systemic bias in the WTO rules and the WTO dispute resolution process against the rights of sovereign states to enact and effectively enforce environmental laws. All three cases led to the weakening of the U.S. laws in question.

  • Case 1: U.S. weakens the Clean Air Act to comply with Venezuela Gas WTO ruling. The U.S. implemented the WTO ruling by replacing U.S. gasoline cleanliness regulations with a policy that the U.S. government previously had estimated would produce a five percent to seven percent increase in annual emissions of nitrous oxide from imported gasoline.
  • Case 2: U.S. dolphin protection laws undermined. After years of sustained trade law challenges, the Bush administration decided to quietly implement a change to a “dolphin safe” labeling policy which Mexico had demanded as necessary to implement a GATT ruling. (Mexico had threatened a new WTO case if their demands were not met). On New Years Eve 2002, when few Americans were focused on policy matters, the Bush administration announced that it would change the “Flipper-friendly” tuna policy to allow the “dolphin-safe” label to be used on tuna caught using deadly purse seine nets and dolphin encirclement. This regulation is now being challenged in federal court.
  • Case 3: U.S. weakens sea turtle protections in the U.S. Endangered Species Act. When the WTO ruled against U.S. Endangered Species Act rules protecting sea turtles from getting killed in shrimpers’ nets, the U.S. complied with the WTO order by replacing the requirement that all countries seeking to sell shrimp in the U.S. had to ensure that their shrimpers used turtle exclusion devices. The new policy is based on an unenforceable rule that allows into the U.S. all shrimp carried by any ship with turtle protection technology, regardless of whether the ship had actually caught the shrimp.

 

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