August 11, 2011
World Trade Organization
Sea turtle conservation, dolphin protection, animal health and food safety, and humane sustainable agriculture are examples of environmental- and animal- related issues discussed, negotiated, and sometimes disputed at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The WTO is comprised of 153 member countries, and is the world's preeminent organization governing international trade. While its principal mission is free and open trade, environmental protection, sustainable development, and animal life and health are objectives woven into the WTO Agreements. Despite this, there is not always agreement among WTO Members on how to prioritize these objectives vis a vis commercial concerns.
Recognizing this, HSI strives to promote animal welfare and respect for the environment, natural habitats, and endangered species as issues that must be at the forefront of ongoing international trade negotiations at the WTO. HSI is active on a number of fronts:
- Through its role on the Trade and Environmental Policy Advisory Committee (TEPAC), HSI advises the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on matters arising in the course of WTO negotiations.
- HSI attends WTO ministerial conferences, such as those held in 2003 (Cancun, Mexico) and 2005 (Hong Kong) where then HSI President Patricia Forkan was selected to represent TEPAC as a U.S. government advisor.
- HSI frequently provides comments and/or testimony to Congress and USTR regarding the intersection of animal protection and international trade issues.
- HSI closely follows and prepares amicus curiae briefs in WTO disputes involving animal issues.
The current round of WTO negotiations, called the Doha Development Round, is focused on lowering tariffs while encouraging sustainable economic development. The Round began in November 2001, although controversial issues such as agricultural subsidies have hindered recent progress. A number of significant issues involving animal protection have been discussed, including promotion of humane sustainable agriculture and elimination of global fisheries subsidies. Resolution of these two issues prior to conclusion of the Round would likely not only have myriad benefits for animals, but would also assist with economic development in developing and least developed countries.
One of the biggest obstacles to conclusion of the Doha Round is the need for agriculture reform in developed countries; specifically, the elimination of government subsidies given to agricultural producers in the United States and the European Union. This reform has great potential to help alleviate poverty and level the playing field for the developing world, however, it must not be achieved at the expense of the welfare of farm animals in either developed or developing countries.
The WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) allows governments to make unlimited payments for environmental programs as long as they are not trade distorting. These are called "Green Box" subsidies. To ensure animals are not victims of agricultural reform, HSI would like explicit acknowledgment that government payments to farmers or ranchers, which offset the costs of increasing animal welfare standards, are permissible "Green Box" subsidies.
Improved animal welfare standards will benefit animals, respond to consumer demand, protect the environment, mitigate the spread of diseases hazardous to public health, and improve economic output. (See HSI's 2008 submission to the WTO Animal Welfare, International Trade and Sustainable Development.) For example:
- Studies demonstrate that mistreating or withholding adequate veterinary care from animals results in reduced economic output;
- Consumers have a vested interest in how animals are treated and have increasingly expressed a desire to purchase humanely produced chicken, beef, pork, dairy products and cage-free eggs; and
- There is a need to improve animal welfare standards in light of livestock diseases, such as outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, and avian influenza (bird flu).
Over time, government subsidies have facilitated overcapacity of global fishing fleets, which in turn has led to a depletion of fisheries resources. Not only is this type of unsustainable fishing devastating to marine life, but it is also detrimental to many local fishing communities, particularly in developing countries, that rely on these resources for their livelihoods.
WTO Members are negotiating an agreement to address these subsidies. Through its role on TEPAC's Fisheries Subcommittee, and in its individual capacity, HSI has been urging the U.S. to continue playing a leadership role in these negotiations and pushing for a strong agreement that substantially reduces subsidies and eliminates overfishing.
To date, some of the most well-known disputes at the WTO, and the WTO's predecessor the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), have involved animals. In the 1990's, several disputes concerned measures taken to protect dolphins from injurious tuna-fishing methods (Tuna-Dolphin) and to protect endangered sea turtles from deadly shrimp-fishing practices (Shrimp-Turtle). More recently, a WTO dispute explored the impact on animal life and health from hazards resulting from the disposal of waste tires (Brazil-Tyres).
These disputes tested the flexibility of the WTO Agreements to allow members to impose trade-restrictive measures based on environmental and animal protection concerns. It is clear from the outcomes that the Agreements do allow for such measures, as long as they comply with certain WTO rules.
Two disputes involving animals will likely bring these issues into the spotlight again. The first is a resurrection of the prior disputes involving dolphin protection. Mexico is challenging the U.S. dolphin-safe label, which is only available for countries that opt not to intentionally set on dolphins while fishing for tuna in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. (See HSI's comments to USTR here.) HSI submitted an amicus brief to the WTO supporting the US label, which ensures strong dolphin protection and continued consumer confidence in tuna products. The second involves the European Union's (EU) ban on the gruesome seal products trade, which its citizens do not want to contribute to and vehemently oppose. Canada and Norway challenged the EU seal ban at the WTO, and a single WTO dispute panel was established to hear complaints from Canada and Norway in April 2011. (See seal recent timeline here.)
For more information on our ongoing policy initiatives at the WTO please see the documents provided below:
Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference: To read our brochure regarding Humane Sustainable Agriculture presented at the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference, December 2005, download the PDF.
To read our position paper for the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference titled Humane, Sustainable, and Environmentally Friendly Development: Opportunities for Equitable Access to International Trade under the Doha Development Agenda, December 2005, download the PDF. This document is also available in Spanish.
To read the reaction of HSI President Patricia Forkan to the proposal put forth by the United States in the Doha Round WTO agriculture negotiations, October 2005.
Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference: To read our position paper for the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference, Humane, Sustainable, and Equitable Development and the Doha Development Agenda, September 2003, download the PDF. This document is also available in Spanish and Portuguese.