Toward a New Foreign Policy

By Dernbach, John C. | Foreign Policy in Focus, December 9, 1999 | Go to article overview

Toward a New Foreign Policy


Dernbach, John C., Foreign Policy in Focus


The U.S. should articulate a positive and compelling vision of what sustainable development would mean for the world's nations and integrate that vision into its domestic and foreign policy, including its trade policy. The United States should exercise that leadership in the WTO and other forums.

U.S. Leadership in the WTO

The WTO needs to be part of the effort to achieve sustainable development, not part of the problem. The United States should exercise leadership in the WTO to achieve the following outcomes. Although many of the examples relate to environment, these recommendations also apply to labor, health, and other aspects of sustainable development.

Elimination of Subsidies That Contribute to Unsustainable Development. WTO parties should phase out subsidies for environmentally unsustainable activities, including subsidies that contribute to fisheries overcapacity. The elimination of such fishing subsidies has been proposed by New Zealand, Iceland, and the United States.

The parties should find other ways to apply the WTO's legal authority concerning subsidies to support sustainable development. For example, it is widely recognized that the use of fossil fuels is subsidized by governments in ways that often increase their use and that the use of fossil fuels contributes to global warming. The Kyoto Protocol specifically identifies elimination of national subsidies as one means of achieving greenhouse gas reductions. Subsidies for fossil fuels distort the prices charged for those fuels and create substantial economic distortions in the debate over the cost of Kyoto Protocol compliance.

Consideration of Sustainable Development in New Trade Agreements. No trade-related agreement should be negotiated or allowed to go into effect unless a sustainable development impact assessment is first prepared and subjected to public review. The assessment should describe the impact of the proposed agreement on the environment, on social development and human rights (including labor), on peace and security, and on national governance that is supportive of those goals. The assessment should also describe alternatives to the proposed agreement, including alternatives relating to the special situation of developing countries, and particularly the least developed countries.

Integration of Sustainable Development Goals into New Trade Agreements. No trade-related agreement should be allowed to go into effect unless the parties are satisfied, after public review, that the agreement would actually further not just economic development but also environmental protection, social development and human rights, peace and security, and supportive national governance. It is not enough to consider the effects on these goals. Trade agreements should actually further these goals, or at least not interfere with them. Procedural reforms to WTO's Committee on Trade and Environment will not achieve this result.

The parties should also find additional ways to make GATT and multilateral environmental agreements mutually supportive. When negotiations relating to a particular economic sector begin, for example, and there is no multilateral environmental agreement in place concerning that sector, there should be preliminary discussion on whether it would be appropriate to have multilateral environmental standards and procedures applicable to that sector. (These standards would include process and production methods.) Environmental ministries should participate directly in such discussions. If so, then those standards could be negotiated at the same time as, or perhaps even as part of, the trade discussions for that sector. Such negotiations should also include appropriate standards and financial or technical assistance for developing countries.

The standards should include air pollution, water pollution, sanitation, and drinking water--environmental problems that developing countries experience more severely and immediately than most other environmental problems. …

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