EU Insists on Discussion of Environment Rules

The EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, wants environmental rules included in the trade talks of the WTO. Fishcler believes that including these rules is a fair trade for the EU’s acceptance of reduced farm subsidies which the WTO hopes to enact. The lower farm subsidies will help developing nations compete in the global market place with the agricultural goods produced by developed nations. Fischler claims that if the EU does not push for environmental rules “we would stand there as the people who sacrificed the public's health on the altar of trade.” A point of contention in the environmental rules is the “precautionary principle”, which the EU wants to define more explicitly. The principle, outlined in the WTO’s mandate, allows a product to be sanctioned if that product is deemed harmful, though sufficient evidence may be lacking. Although Fischler claims to be acting as the voice of the people, is the environment the new shield to protect Europe’s beloved farm subsidies? - YaleGlobal

EU Insists on Discussion of Environment Rules

Michael Mann
Sunday, October 7, 2001

Franz Fischler, European Union farm commissioner, has launched a stinging attack on World Trade Organisation members for opposing the EU's demands for environmental rules to be on the agenda of a planned new round of global trade talks.

He warned that a failure to respect the EU's wishes would increase public hostility to the WTO in Europe. The warning comes amid uncertainty as to whether the WTO will go ahead with its planned ministerial meeting in Qatar later this month, in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US.

Mr Fischler's comments, in an interview with the FT, come after the EU last week enraged other WTO members by saying that talks on the environment were a quid pro quo for EU agreement to ambitious negotiations aimed at slashing subsidies to agriculture, one of the main targets for many developing countries.

Mr Fischler also launched a robust defence of the EU's position on the environment and accused its WTO partners of inflexibility in refusing to even discuss questions of vital concern to European citizens.

The EU is insisting that a trade round should include discussions on a clear definition of what it calls the "precautionary principle", which it believes justifies trade bans on health grounds even where there is no clear evidence of risk. There is almost universal opposition to the EU's demands among other WTO members.

"We simply cannot act against the interests of our citizens, or we would stand there as the people who sacrificed the public's health on the altar of trade and would have great problems reaching a sensible conclusion and making progress on the round," Mr Fischler said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2001