Chile Eludes Environmental Clauses
5 July, 2002
SANTIAGO, Jul 1 (IPS) - The controversy
over the environmental question in international trade talks is heating
up in this South American nation, where the government signed a free trade
treaty with the European Union (EU) and is seeking a similar accord with
the United States this year.
Usually included in the central text of a trade
agreement, environmental clauses create obligations for the signatories
to heed international environmental conventions and slaps trade sanctions
on any party that fails to comply with those rules.
The Chilean government considered the most appropriate
solution to be the approach it took in the free trade treaty signed with
Canada in 1996, which does not contain environmental or labour clauses,
matters that were relegated to annex protocols that were signed by the
two countries in parallel to the main accord.
The Chilean authorities believe this formula is
a model of how negotiations should be conducted by a developing country
with an industrialised country, and they are attempting to repeat it in
talks with the United States.
However, environmental organisations in Chile and
the United States are incensed at such political manoeuvring.
The environmental aspects related to trade are
one of the pending issues of the new round of multilateral trade talks
begun last November under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation
(WTO), but it is a difficult matter that could explode at the body's next
ministerial conference, slated for 2003 in Mexico.
In the absence of a global standard, the trade-environmental
equation is often left open to the lobbying capacity of the parties involved
in bilateral or multilateral negotiations.
The conflicts are most evident in asymmetric talks,
when powerful countries attempt to subject their potential developing country
trade partners to submit to the former's environmental legislation, which
tends to be stricter.
Although the final text of the Chile-EU agreement
is still being drafted, the preliminary protocol upholds a widespread trend:
binding trade to internationally recognised environmental treaties, such
as the conventions on climate change, ozone layer protection and biological
The information released by the Chilean Foreign
Ministry, in charge of the talks, does not include mention of environmental
clauses, though it underscores the EU's willingness to provide broad cooperation
with Chile in this area.
The matter becomes more complicated in the context
of the talks with the United States, where there is heavy pressure from
ecological organisations, unions and some farmers that are in favour of
introducing environmental and labour clauses.
The Chilean Alliance for Fair and Responsible Trade
is also inclined towards such clauses, arguing that the transnational corporations
keep their eyes on such trade treaties and accords in order to transfer
their investments to countries whose fragile legislation allows them to
exploit their natural resources.
Rodrigo Pizarro, an economist for the independent
Terram Foundation, objects to the Chilean accord with the EU, saying he
believes it will only make Chile more dependent on primary commodity exports
and open up its fishing wealth to the European bloc.
But the government is of a different opinion. The
environmental clauses distort the trade aspects of the treaties and open
the door to arbitrary decisions and possible sanctions for non-compliance,
said the head of the Trade Policy Department at the Chilean foreign ministry,
Ricardo Lagos Weber.
The official admitted that the problem lies in
the fact that while the WTO serves as a sort of supra- organisation dictating
trade norms, there is not an equivalent global authority on the environment
for agreements on obligatory procedures for the entire international community.
In this context, environmental organisations in
the developing South, like the Malaysia-based Third World Network, warn
that the inclusion of social and environmental clauses could turn out to
be a mechanism that reverses the deregulatory nature of free trade, but
also serve as a barrier imposed by the industrialised North for exports
coming from developing countries.
* Tierramérica is a specialised news service
(www.tierramerica.net) produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations
Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme. (END/IPS/LA/EN-IF/TRA-SO
By Gustavo González - Tierramérica
Defensores del Bosque Chileno
Diagonal Oriente 1413
Chile Tel. 56.2.2041914
Fax 56.2.2092527 http://www.elbosquechileno.cl
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