GATT Report Draws Fire from Environmentalists in Runup to Key Summits Study Counters Argument That Free Trade Hurts the Environment

Article excerpt

ARTHUR DUNKEL, director-general of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), has thrown down the gauntlet on conservationists who claim that free trade damages the global environment.

His 35-page report released on Feb. 11 is the first of its kind to come from the world trade watchdog established in 1947.

In it Mr. Dunkel argues that "green" policies and freer trade in industrial products can live together in harmony. But his arguments have drawn rebukes from environmentalists determined to prove him wrong.

Some environmental groups concede, however, that the report merits a reasoned response and have decided to study it with care before commenting.

Disputes between conservationists and champions of industry are nothing new. This time, however, the debate has been initiated by the GATT chief.

Dunkel's report was characterized by one of his officials as an attempt to "encourage international discussion of the links between trade and industry and environmental pollution."

Its central - and controversial - thesis is that increased international commerce should make it easier, not harder, to protect the global environment.

"Increasing trade improves our ability to invest in and protect the environment," the report says. "A country with a stagnant economy will be under greater pressure to snit on improving the environment."

The Dunkel report has been published amid continuing attempts to break the deadlock in the stalled Uruguay Round of world trade talks and in the run-up to the United Nations "earth summit" in Brazil in June.

Dunkel said the report was to be discussed at the summit, and that the document was designed to counter two arguments likely to be used extensively by environmental spokesmen at Rio de Janeiro: that increases in international trade have an adverse impact on the environment; and that the application of trade sanctions against countries with low environmental standards is justifiable.

The Dunkel report's contention that increased trade gives countries more money to spend on cleaner production and consumption challenges the passionately-held convictions of environmentalists.

Its publication came only a week after the leaking of a memorandum by Lawrence Summers, vice president of the World Bank, arguing the economic case for locating pollution-producing industries in developing countries. The memo, which Mr. Summers defended as an attempt to provoke thought, appeared to conflict with World Bank policies on environmental protection and prompted demands for his resignation.

The bank administers the $1.5 billion Global Environmental Facility through which funds for environmental protection in many countries are administered.

Colin Hines, a London-based Greenpeace International campaigner, called the Summers thesis "outrageous." He dismissed Dunkel's argument as "totally false. …