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Trade and the Environment: Greening of the WTO

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posted on 2021-11-14, 04:31 authored by Paulson, Stella Kasoulides

The World Trade Organisation has often been demonised for its negative effect on the environment. Environmentalists have chastised the WTO for a failure to protect the environment against the impact of globalised trade. In December 1999 activists marched the Ministerial Conference in Seattle to protest what they saw as the WTO’s preference for free trade at the expense of the environment. They blocked the entrances to the WTO meeting and prevented delegates from attending discussions, ultimately killing the Round of negotiations. Still today the WTO is notorious in environmental circles and has ‘become a watchword for injustice and environmental ignorance.’ One of the, if not the, main reason for this opposition to the WTO is the WTO’s, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade’s, past treatment of tradeenvironment cases. The Tuna-Dolphin and Shrimp-Turtle cases drew the attention of environmental activists around the world, who saw the decisions of the dispute settlement bodies, which ruled against environmental trade measures, as evidence that the WTO and GATT desire ever-liberalised trade at any cost. The purpose of this paper is to reveal how the WTO has in fact greened over time, and that those who continue to condemn the WTO without reservation have failed to recognise changes in the WTO which signal that the door has been opened to environmental trade measures. This paper does not purport to claim that the GATT has always been an environmentally friendly institution, but rather that significant changes have occurred which warrant a shift in public attitude. The purpose of encouraging that change in public perception is not simply to relieve the WTO of criticism. Rather, the goal of this paper rests on the idea that only once the international community has acknowledged the greening of the WTO, will Member states truly be able to implement trade-related environmental measures that do not contravene the GATT and therefore are left un-contested and free to achieve their environmental aims. If better attention is given to the current jurisprudence, Member states could follow carefully laid out criteria to create effective and acceptable trade-related environmental measures. Part II of this paper provides important background information about the environment-trade debate, the WTO, trade-liberalisation and the significant relationship between trade and the environment. Part III then sets the scene by describing some of the predictions that were made about the potential treatment of the environment by the WTO. Part IV will then describe the key trading principles of the GATT and the environmental exceptions to those principles. Part V highlights several institutional and organization developments which have occurred and which signify a greening of the GATT/WTO arena. Most importantly, Part VI outlines several significant developments in WTO jurisprudence to demonstrate its new sophistication and the resultant greening of the dispute settlement process. Finally Part VII discusses the greening of the WTO in the setting of an environmentally conscious world.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970118 Expanding Knowledge in Law and Legal Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Masters Research Paper or Project



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Law