Trading Away the Environment

By Sforza, Michelle | Multinational Monitor, October 1999 | Go to article overview

Trading Away the Environment

Sforza, Michelle, Multinational Monitor

WTO Rules Thwart Environmental Agreements, Punish Innovation

Five YEARS OF THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION (WTO) have convinced environmentalists that their worst fears were right: the global commerce agency is fundamentally flawed, its basic rules antithetical to environmental, as well as consumer, worker safety and other non-commercial interests.

In the WTO's very first ruling on one country's challenge to another's law, a tribunal ordered the United States to scrap a U.S. Clean Air Act regulation or face economic sanctions simply because the regulation might adversely impact foreign gasoline. Under WTO rules, countries which lose a tribunal decision must alter their laws to comply with the WTO agreements or accept perpetual trade sanctions or fines. In the Clean Air Act case, the Clinton administration moved to change the offending regulation.

Soon thereafter, another WTO tribunal held that a European ban on beef from hormone-treated cows violated WTO rules requiring countries to prove that products are actually dangerous before taking them off the market (as opposed to a requirement that companies demonstrate that products are safe before they are put on the market). At the urging of European consumers and public health advocates, the EU has defied the WTO ruling, and is now paying the price: small European family farms are suffering $200 million in retaliatory tariffs against their products each year until the EU revokes the ban.

A quarter of the WTO's enforceable rulings have been against food safety rules, product standards and environmental regulations. The WTO has never upheld a challenged environmental regulation, rejecting claims that the contested environmental safeguards met genetic WTO rules or satisfied requirements for the WTO's environmental exceptions clause.

While the WTO has made clear its willingness to override hard-won, domestic public health and environmental laws, it is now becoming increasingly clear that laws adopted to comply with international agreements on the environment are equally vulnerable to challenge under WTO rules.

In 1998, a WTO appellate panel ruled the United States could not maintain an embargo on shrimp from countries that have not adopted regulations to protect endangered sea turtles from drowning in shrimp nets. The U.S. took such action under the CITES (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species), an agreement signed by over 146 nations to protect animals threatened with extinction. The WTO panel chose not to interpret the U.S. shrimp embargo as a legitimate exercise of its obligations under CITES, even though the agreement lists the sea turtle as a species that signatory countries must protect.

Now, environmentalists believe, cases on the WTO's horizon are showing how far-reaching WTO rules are, revealing the potential multifaceted conflicts with multilateral environmental treaties, demonstrating how narrow corporate interests can hijack the WTO's machinery for their own purposes, and highlighting how corporations can manipulate WTO rules to chill the development of a new generation of rules for an ecologically sound global economy.


In 1997, representatives from 150 countries convened in Kyoto, Japan to establish legally binding limits on emissions of greenhouse gases. Thirty-seven industrialized nations, including the EU, the United States and Japan, agreed to significantly limit greenhouse gas emissions.

To comply, in 1998 Japan revised its "Law Concerning Rational Use of Energy," which includes rules setting standards for automobile fuel efficiency. Japan set new fuel efficiency standards for all cars, particularly cars in the medium weight category, where the standards were less rigorous when compared to those applied to smaller and larger cars.

When Japan attempted to implement its Kyoto objectives, the United States and the EU accused Tokyo of violating WTO rules and began pressuring the Japanese to loosen the new emissions standards. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Trading Away the Environment


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.