TCS Daily

U.S. Buckles to Pressure?

By Christopher C. Horner - September 13, 2003 12:00 AM

CANCUN, Mexico -- As the World Trade Organization (WTO) continues its biennial Ministerial talks here, the European Union unveiled a startling new condition for future trade agreements: the inclusion of "Sustainable Impact Assessments" (SIA), a green analysis of proposed trade measures. Insisting on this condition would impede pro-growth measures. The proposal is a transparent effort to hinder competition and impose EU policies rejected by others.


The U.S. and most of the rest of the world resists this unprecedented subservience of a pro-development trade regime to anti-growth environmental theories. Yet this week the U.S. announced an effort smacking alarmingly of a kind with the EU's "SIA" demand.  In a September 9 press release, the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced the U.S. will "seek additional input from the public on the anticipated environmental effects of a multilateral trade agreement under the Doha Development Agenda of the [WTO].  Meeting with environmental groups and businesses on the eve of the 5th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Cancun, Zoellick also asked USTR's official environmental advisory committee to recommend ways to increase public input to environmental reviews of trade agreements that are mandated under U.S. law" (referring to the Trade Act of 2002 requiring that proposed trade agreements undergo an environmental review process, including input from the public and environmental groups).

Claiming that the law requires this additional nose under the tent for anti-trade interests is thin gruel for those suspicious of continued erosion of U.S. competitiveness. U.S. advantages are magnified by continued European coalition governments' obeisance to their Green parties, and are likely the EU's principal motivation for insisting on melding anti-growth measures with pro-growth ones. "The law made me do it" is also weak cover because USTR already employs an advisory committee to address environmental issues, the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee (TEPAC)).


Further, the law does not require USTR agree to bad ideas. Clearly Congress did not push USTR toward the EU's dream of lowering U.S. competitiveness. This EU campaign to corner the U.S. is marvelously documented by former Australian trade negotiator Alan Oxley in his new study, "European Unilateralism: Environmental Barriers and the Rising Threat to Prosperity through Trade."


USTR's move seems to be either a buckling under the pressure from its role in opposing EU eco-protectionism, or the first step toward accepting it.  But whatever its motivation, this step is a dangerous move by USTR in the direction of an EU increasingly bent on using environmental claims to gut trade liberalization measures inconvenient to its peculiarly green-obsessed policies.  Much is to be lost by treading down that dangerous path they have charted. Complaints are rampant here among U.S. interests about the need for strong trade advocacy. This most recent, apparently political, move is not a good sign that U.S. timidity will end soon.


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