Press release

IISD calls for widespread reform of WTO

September 10, 2000
Years of research by Canada's leading sustainable development think tank/research institute demonstrates a clear need for reform of the international trading system

WINNIPEG — The fallout from the World Trade Organization's failed Seattle ministerial conference is still being felt almost a year later. The international trading system continues to be mired in problems and has made little progress in addressing some of the institutional failures that resulted in the Seattle conference's collapse. In its Statement on Trade and Sustainable Development to be released on September 11, 2000, Canada's International Institute for Sustainable Development calls for major reform of the WTO to address many of these problems.

"There are many critics of the WTO who are glad to see that international trade negotiations have been derailed so successfully since Seattle. We are not," said Mark Halle, Director of Trade and Investment at IISD. "We believe trade liberalization is an essential component of sustainable development. The time has come to move beyond the rhetoric, address the real issues and make some progress towards badly needed reform of the WTO." Given the lack of progress in international trade talks, IISD President David Runnalls said it is time for the IISD to set the pace. "While the IISD has been highly critical of the international trade regime, it also believes a strong and effective WTO is necessary, not only in the interest of economic development, but also to achieve sustainable resource use and to improve social well-being world wide."

The IISD Statement on Trade and Sustainable Development is intended to be a rallying point for like-minded organizations and a foundation for constructive efforts at reforming the WTO. The IISD Statement on Trade and Development recommends the following WTO reforms:

  • Openly address - and give priority to - the range of impacts which result from trade liberalization, whether on small producers, rural poor, economic growth or the environment;
  • Find ways for developing countries to participate more equitably in it's the WTO's work;
  • Greatly increase capacity of both governments and civil society-particularly in developing countries-to promote trade policies and to promote reforms in the WTO that support and advance sustainable development.

The IISD trade statement highlights the shift in the balance of power in the WTO, with developing countries flexing their muscles. "The failed trade talks in Seattle clearly indicated that nothing can be done on the environment and sustainable development without their support", said Halle.

The trade statement exhorts the environmental community to distinguish clearly between trade-related measures designed to meet internationally accepted goals and those designed to protect domestic special interests. "While there is a fine line between protecting the environment and blatant protectionism, the environmental community has not always been attentive to the impact of their proposals on the developing countries," said Halle. "With this statement we urge that they come out and openly condemn blatant protectionism as bad for trade, bad for development and bad for the environment, and refocus their efforts on building an environmental agenda in the WTO with which both developed and developing communities can identify."

David Runnalls, IISD president, and Mark Halle, director of trade and investment will be available for comment on the IISD Statement on Trade and Sustainable Development on Monday September 11, 2000. They can be reached in Geneva at (41-22) 979-9353. Inquiries from North American media outlets can be directed to Dennis Cunningham at (204) 958-7705.

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.