WTO Decrees threaten environmental and public health laws

The European Commission is planning to join together with the US, Japan, and a number of other countries to use new World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations to dismantle a wide range of national laws protecting the environment, social well-being and health.

Among environmental and public health measures under threat are regulations to promote regional development, environmentally friendly restrictions on foreign investment, labelling and certification requirements and restrictions on exports. Should governments succeed in eliminating these ‘non-tariff barriers’ they would undo a wealth of legislation designed and implemented to protect people and their environment around the world.

Challenges to laws requiring the registration of new and existing chemicals would put a stop to the EU's "REACH" proposal, currently going through the legislative process in the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, a far-reaching measure which has already been subject to intensive lobbying by powerful corporate interests. In addition, the so-called End-of-life vehicles Directive introduced two years ago, which requires manufacturers collect and recycle scrapped cars, is the subject of a challenge which claims it to be a trade restriction rather than a genuine environmental protection measure. Amongst the ragbag of important laws under threat are

  • bans on imports of skins from animals killed using inhumane hunting practices
  • laws requiring the labelling of domestic electrical appliances to enable consumers to choose the most efficient, as well as labels which let the consumer know which containers and products can be recycled
  • taxes structured to favour fuel-efficient vehicles
  • requirements ensuring high standards for the certification of medicines
  • Allow developing countries to direct and control foreign direct investment in the motor vehicle and petroleum oils sectors

    Commenting in the threat, Ronnie Hall of Friends of the Earth said “The WTO is finally showing its true colours. This is a breath-taking and shameful attack on social and environmental standards world-wide. Chemical pollution, climate change, deforestation, depleted fish stocks, waste – none of these seem to matter in the slightest when it comes to the all-important business of accessing new markets and making a quick buck. We simply – and literally – cannot allow the WTO to continue like this. Our future is at stake.”

    It is not only environmental and public health standards which are under threat, moreover. Take the example of the end-of-life vehicles Directive. These laws were made according to the constitutional legislative processes of the countries or blocs involved. Flawed though these may be, they represent what in most cases we are told is the democratic process and thus the will of the people. The CAFE regulations requiring vehicles to conform to minimum fuel efficiency standards, for example, were passed by the US Congress in 1975. The End of Life Vehicle Directive was approved by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers in 2002. These are two of the measures under threat. For laws so made to be overturned by decree by an unelected and unanswerable body is clearly outrageous.