Press release

IISD sees opportunity in crisis for WTO to strengthen its role by engaging in sustainable development

November 17, 2009
GENEVA—November 18, 2009—The World Trade Organization has been presented with a roadmap to guide it to a stronger social and environmental purpose, as its mission for economic prosperity is threatened by looming climate change and other global environmental, social and economic crises.
A Sustainable Development Roadmap for the WTO, issued yesterday by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, calls for the WTO to rethink its direction and goals, and then redesign a trade policy that meets the imperatives of environmental protection and the needs of impoverished and vulnerable sectors of society.
"Today we live in a small world where there is no room for pure mercantilism. The potential of the WTO to engage in sustainable development is enormous," author Aaron Cosbey of IISD said.
WTO Director General Pascal Lamy thanked IISD for the Roadmap and agreed the WTO system could be improved. The question remains how.
Lamy said the WTO is not a "holistic" organization, but could more actively participate in the efforts of other specialized multilateral institutions and civil society organizations to address interconnected sustainable development issues in the context of a new approach to world trade.
Canada's permanent WTO representative John Gero said the Roadmap offered good suggestions on how to solve a number of issues, adding that it challenged conventional wisdom, and importantly emphasized the need for benchmarks for accountability.
Cosbey said the guide offers a message of hope, and acknowledges that many of the principles for sustainable development are already embodied in the founding text of the WTO.
"It is time for the WTO to do some serious soul-searching. For starters, it should convene an independent body of experts to recommend how it can make progress on these institutional issues, and to help decide which pieces of the larger sustainable development effort are appropriate to the WTO's mandate and expertise."

Aaron Cosbey is an associate and senior advisor with the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development, and the author of A Sustainable Development Roadmap for the WTO.

For more information, please contact IISD media and communication officer, Nona Pelletier Phone: +1-(204)-958-7740, Cell: +1-(204)-962-1303.

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.