Press release

IISD launches report card on the World Trade Organization

September 10, 1996

WINNIPEG — The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) announces the release of an independent assessment of the World Trade Organization and Sustainable Development.

The WTO Assessment is an in-depth progress report. "Since sustainable development is a cross-cutting issue affecting all of the work of the WTO, this report examines not only the work of the WTO Committee on Trade and the Environment, but that of the other WTO Councils and Committees," said David Runnalls, Director of the Trade Program at IISD. "We conclude that the WTO has failed to integrate sustainable development concerns into trade policies, that the organization still conducts its business behind closed doors, and has been slow to develop relations with other organizations essential for its success."

Quoting directly from the recommendations of the Report the WTO has been compared to the GATT:

"The dominant theme has been continuity from the GATT to the WTO. A culture of closed decision-making has persisted, inefficient internal structures have carried over without reflection, and the dispute settlement process still resembles the rules committee of a club. The Committee on Development has achieved nothing notable and the Committee on Trade and Environment may continue a record of futility which now dates back twenty-four years to the first creation of the abortive environment committee of the GATT. The Councils on Intellectual Property Rights and Trade in Services have spent most of their two years on mundane housekeeping tasks."

The report points out the need for immediate action arguing that if the environment is not given more importance in the trade rules, consumers and environmentalists will take their grievances outside the system. Large economies such as the United States and the European Union have shown a tendency to take unilateral actions when they feel that the formal trading system does not respond to their priorities. And there is a strong potential for alliances between frustrated environmental groups and protectionists on issues such as the trade in forest products.

The World Trade Organization was created as a result of the Uruguay Round of Trade Negotiations just over two years ago and this Report is very critical of its ineffectiveness in linking the issues of sustainable development and trade liberalization. With the WTO hosting its first meeting of trade ministers in Singapore in December this year, Runnalls said, "It is critical that the Singapore Ministerial address these limitations of the WTO."

Three assessment documents are available in hard copy or on-line at IISDnet: A four page executive summary, a thirty-four page summary assessment (PDF file) and the full Assessment Report (PDF file) can be viewed and down-loaded on-line. To order copies, see the Report entry in our publications catalogue.


Headquartered in Winnipeg, IISD's mission is to promote sustainable development in decision making internationally and within Canada. To be sustainable, development must improve economic efficiency, protect and restore ecological systems and enhance the well-being of people. IISD's work contributes new knowledge and concepts, analyzes policies, identifies and disseminates information about best practices, demonstrates how to measure progress, and builds partnerships to amplify these messages. IISD is a prominent research institute in the field of sustainable development and international trade.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development was established in 1990 with continuing financial support from Environment Canada, CIDA and the Province of Manitoba. It also receives revenue from foundations and other private sector sources.

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 120 people, plus over 150 associates and consultants, 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.