Why and How the World Trade Organization Must Promote Environmental Protection

By Stenzel, Paulette L. | Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Why and How the World Trade Organization Must Promote Environmental Protection


Stenzel, Paulette L., Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum


I. INTRODUCTION TO THE WTO AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Recently, the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and Group of Eight (G8) (1) have become targets for major protests in cities around the world because they promote globalization of trade and, therefore, problems resulting from such trade. Environmentalists blame the WTO for the negative environmental effects of international trade. In response, businesspeople and the WTO's leaders assert that the mission of the WTO is to promote trade; they say that it is not the WTO's duty to protect the environment. Thus, the WTO and its member nations face at least two core questions. Should the WTO be held responsible for environmental protection? If so, what should the WTO do?

These questions cannot be ignored, because citizens around the world are articulating serious concerns about the negative effects of trade globalization, including, but not limited to, its effects on the environment, workers, and consumers. Environmental activists, labor representatives, consumer advocates, and citizens of underdeveloped countries are frustrated because the WTO's leaders are not chosen through democratic processes and its decision-making processes are closed to most citizens. Additionally, activists believe that their concerns are being ignored by the WTO. Therefore, feeling unheard and ignored, activists have taken their complaints into the streets, gaining the world's attention through the news media. In 1999, protests at the third Ministerial of the WTO in Seattle, Washington brought the meeting to a halt. (2) In mid-April 2000, protests in Washington, D.C. disrupted the annual meeting of the IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD or World Bank).

Following the Seattle and Washington, D.C. protests, Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, said,

   The huge demonstrations in Seattle and Washington provided a 
   clear signal to the international globalization institutions 
   that if they keep trying to do business as usual, 
   they're going to encounter an ever-growing storm of 
   protest.... People are not going to stand 
   by and see their communities and their quality of life 
   degraded by distant corporate powers. (3) 

Yet, the protests continue. (4) On July 20, 2001 as many as 100,000 people marched in Genoa, Italy at the G8 Summit. Confrontations between police and protesters resulted in one person dead and nearly 500 injured. (5) In reaction, protests against the brutality of the Italian police were held the next day in the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Spain, and several other nations. (6)

It is important to note that those who engaged in violence constituted a minority among the marchers in Genoa. Moreover, some groups, such as the environmental organization Friends of the Earth, stayed away from Genoa because of the prospect of violence. Other protests have been notably peaceable. For example, in 1998 at a G8 meeting in Birmingham, England, protesters sang hymns and made speeches calling for debt reduction for poor nations. (7) In November 2001, a meeting of IMF and World Bank delegates was held in Ottawa, Canada. (8) At the meeting, about 2,000-4,000 protesters voiced their concerns in a "largely peaceful" manner, and those who engaged in vandalism were quietly arrested without violent confrontations with the police. (9)

Protests were also planned for fourth Ministerial of the WTO that was to be held in Doha, Qatar in November of 2001. (10) But, in the wake of the terrorism of September 11, security for the event was extremely tight. (11) Qatari authorities told about 300 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that they could only send one representative each. (12) Ultimately fewer than 200 representatives of environmental, labor, and other groups were granted visas by the Qatar government.

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