Trade, Sustainability, and the WTO: Environmental Protection in the Hong Kong SAR

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

Environmental well-being affects human health. An important yardstick in measuring the environmental well-being of coastal states is the sustainability of fisheries. (1) A recent study has suggested that the world's fish catch might be much smaller than previously reported. (2) Nevertheless, the decline of world's fishery has become a matter of international concern. (3) As a coastal jurisdiction, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ("HKSAR") is obliged to ensure through proper conservation and management measures that the maintenance of the living resources in its exclusive economic zone is not endangered by over-exploitation. (4) Notwithstanding that the fishery sector is not substantial from a global economy aspect, the fishery sector has a major impact on some coastal nation states and fishery products are a major component in world trade. (5) The most important factors contributing to the depletion in fishery resources are environmentally harmful fishery subsidies and inadequate fishery management. (6) Fishery subsidies have partly contributed to the over-expansion of fishing boats, and, as a result, created excessive harvesting. (7) Inadequate fishery management includes lack of implementation and poor enforcement of environmental protection legislation regulating air and water pollution in ensuring a sustainable environment.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ("UNCLOS") provides sovereign rights over an exclusive economic zone to each coastal state. Every state has sovereign rights for the purpose of conserving and managing the marine resources and protecting and preserving the marine environment. (8) These measures are designed to maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield. (9) The People's Republic of China ("China") is a signatory state to the Convention. (10) As the HKSAR is now a special administrative region of China, it inevitably has a duty to honor the international obligations made between China and other members of the international community, as they apply to the HKSAR. (11) Accordingly, the HKSAR has to operate within the ambit of the UNCLOS, to which China is a signatory state. (12)

The Basic Law of the HKSAR ("Basic Law") authorizes the HKSAR to participate in relevant international organizations and to enter into international trade agreements on its own. (13) However, it also provides that the Central People's Government ("CPG") shall be responsible for the foreign affairs relating to the HKSAR. (14) However, the CPG has to consult the HKSAR Government before such international agreements are extended to the Region. (15) International agreements made prior to resumption of exercise of sovereignty by China over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, remain unchanged. (16) These include the founding membership in the World Trade Organization ("WTO").

International environmental law is a developing area in the HKSAR, which is subject to seventeen multilateral environmental agreements ("MEA") dealing with water pollution and conservation as of December 200. (17) It was not until 1977 that an Environmental Protection Unit was established in the HKSAR. (18) Its powers, however, were merely supervisory. (19) This unit was upgraded to an Environmental Protection Agency in 1981. Finally, in 1986, the Environmental Protection Department was established and was empowered with pollution prevention and control measures. (20) While the then colonial administrative did not give environmental issues a high priority, (21) a number of these MEAs were made, including the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer ("Montreal Protocol") and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal ("Basel Convention").

Although the HKSAR is allowed to exercise a high degree of autonomy, (22) it may not enter into any international agreement on its own other than trade agreements. …

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