The World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Trade and Environment recently discussed how trade can help promote a circular economy which favours keeping materials in use and improving resource efficiency.

Members argued that work in the WTO will be vital for unlocking trade flows and promoting cooperation in this area.

Several WTO member countries have raised the particular problem of plastic pollution, given its cross-border implications.

Director-General Roberto Azevêdo responded: “Whether and how to address plastic pollution at the WTO will ultimately be in your hands to determine. Decisions on how to proceed will be yours to make. Members are in the driver's seat at the WTO. The Secretariat and I will be enthusiastic supporters in all environment-related efforts you decide to pursue.”

Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff elaborated on the role the WTO can play in supporting a global transition to a circular economy.

Many trade-related measures actively support the circular economy, he explained, for example by establishing ecodesign or recycling standards, or by requiring governments to purchase goods that meet environmental standards.

Speakers concluded that, while national action was essential, global cooperation and solutions were equally critical. Trade could play a role by providing the scale a circular economy requires by pooling supply and demand for reusable materials currently spread out in various markets, they said.

It is expected that some of these ideas will be taken forward at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) being convened in Nur-Sultan in June 2020.

Meanwhile, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Fiji, Iceland and Norway have launched negotiations for an Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS).

The parties will consider the elimination of tariffs on environmental goods and new commitments on environmental services, disciplines to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, and guidelines for eco-labelling programmes.

Negotiations will start early next year and, once an agreement is forged, it will be open to other WTO members who wish to make the same commitments.

Last reviewed 6 December 2019