Progress at last
The November 2001 Doha Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) reached agreement on negotiations on trade and the environment in several specific areas. These areas included the relationship between WTO rules and specific trade obligations in multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), information exchanges with MEA secretariats, and reductions in tariffs on environmental goods. The work program will also seek to identify win–win situations in which reductions in trade barriers would benefit trade and the environment, and to examine labeling requirements for environmental purposes. Trade and labor standards received relatively little attention, with the meeting reaffirming an agreement reached in 1996.
By contrast, labor and environmental issues were much more controversial at the 1999 Ministerial Meeting in Seattle. This was dramatically disrupted by street protests questioning the pace and direction of globalization and free trade, which were seen as embodied by the WTO. The largest core of protesters at Seattle was labor unions and environmentalists. Despite the existence of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE), labor and environmental issues have been considered outside the purview of the WTO, or at most a minor concern, and thus the protests came as a surprise to trade officials.
In the 1996 Singapore Ministerial, discussion over the report of the CTE was held hostage to discussions over agriculture. Debate on the CTE report and the underlying trade–environment issues were not, in the end, linked.