trade and environment

International trade rules, reflected in the WTO and its products such as GATS, TRIPS and others, have a huge effect on our local ecosystem functioning. It is surprising to me that more environmental campaigners do not lobby their governments to challenge these rules, which are deemed greater priority than many social or environmental safeguards are. Perhaps developing countries governments are already convinced and doing their best to challenge ‘rules rigged in favour of the rich’, as put by Trevor Manuel back in 2005.


Our governments would be challenging these rules for a different set of reasons, but in terms of the environment, the laws enshrined in the international template and often superseding national laws, allow multinational corporations to run roughshod over local peoples and environment. Even the government decision to delay the request for Shell to frack the sensitive Karoo semi-desert ecosystem in South Africa, may be challenged under WTO rules. At the moment, the highest law of the land seems to be trade law.

The effects of these laws seem to be going under the radar of activists. Maybe membership to the WTO, and the investments and job offerings it provides, is deemed too valuable for any country to challenge aggressively and openly. I wonder what might happen if a new WTO is created amongst developing countries only, with environmental and social safeguards, and principles of equity prioritised. Perhaps an alternative would be to place countries on levels, according to development status, and accord varying levels of protectionism to them in order their fledgling industries may be nurtured (exactly the way the US and UK grew strong). I wonder if this theoretical new grouping could incorporate universal carbon tax. I wonder if we have enough strength and time to disassemble global institutions that have a clear bias towards developed countries.

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