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WTO Think-In

Is the WTO dying? Perhaps, but that is not all that is dying off. Environmentalists, in the traditional single-issue sense, are a dying breed. The WTO battle is perhaps the best example of their departure from the current geopolitical landscape. Who would have thought that "knee-jerk, liberal, tree-hugger types" would have their own trade representatives and legal teams suing the pants off the forces of free trade? Times have changed. I am increasingly impressed with the sophistication of advocacy groups and their worldwide campaigning. The integration of the "three Es"?ecology, economy, and equity?is afoot.

The free-trade negotiating table is still made of old-growth mahogany; we aren't winning yet. But Seattle should give industry barons an eye-opener more potent than an early-morning Bloody Mary at the golf course. Postmodern tree huggers not only have their own trade reps and lawyers stiffing the likes of US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky; we have growing people power. The forces of 50,000 in Seattle were not so hard for us to muster. A labor/environment marriage is still tenuous, but as it solidifies?and it shall?we will see signs of an authentic ecological U-turn.

An ecological U-turn is the opposite of what the WTO's Free Logging Agreement would have for the biosphere. Trade associations such as the AF&PA (American Forests & Paper Association) were licking their chops at the prospect of a 3 to 4 percent increase in wood-product profits, had they gotten their way in Seattle. Fortunately they didn't. However, people still see that cutting import and export taxes makes wood cheaper. That stimulates demand and, hence, the destruction of national efforts to protect old-growth forests. In addition, many nations prohibit the export of raw (unprocessed) logs in order to add export value to their wood products and encourage their timber-mill and wood-products industries.

That's not all. WTO wants the authority to decide if requiring recycled content is an illegal limitation on the paper trade. It's a race back in time. Also, WTO does not allow the process by which trees are grown and/or harvested (e.g., sustainably or not) to be considered in trade agreements. It has so far opposed all certification of green labeling that tells you whether the harvesting process protected biodiversity, hillslope stability, the water cycle, and soils. And WTO can undermine the import-protection rules of nations, which prevent damage to their forests by exotic pests.

Could the WTO be fixed and become a savior of the situation? Yes, if you reversed virtually every provision related to forests. Do that, and governments could better test for invasive species at their borders and keep control of tariffs for conservation purposes. You could really fix the WTO if the overall mandate to eliminate trade barriers was reversed to foster self-reliant bioregional economies?fat chance! I say nix it.