Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Free trade and climate change

It has been reported last week that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled against China on whether they can restrict media (books, movies, etc.) to only those imported by state-run companies.

What is interesting is the reasoning in the ruling. Something not mentioned in some of the news media's coverage is that WTO says that China can restrict media for reasons of censorship. That I think sends the message that what we care about is "free trade" and do not care about human rights, freedom of speech, etc.

What has this to do with the environment? Just last month the WTO and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) issued a joint report on free trade and the environment.

The problem with free trade is, well, that it is not free trade. Countries which are the biggest pushers of the free trade rhetoric, such as the United States and the European Union, also have tariffs and quotas for everything from steel to sugar. Companies which claim to want free trade are also the same companies that push for government intervention to "protect their industry". I would further argue that there will never be such a thing as free trade, the stakes are too high.

With that in mind, is free trade good for the environment?

The problem is that the WTO and other free trade advocates are constantly saying that anything which restricts free trade is bad. Yes, in the report WTO hints that you could incorporate climate change regulations into free trade agreements (such as the current Doha round of negotiations); however, their history shows otherwise. It has consistently said previously that non-trade issues should be handled by other international laws and bodies.

The problems with free trade I feel can be summed up in three ways: movement of polluting industries and varying regulations, removal of barriers which are beneficial to the environment, and technology transfer. We have already seen with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that many industries have moved to Mexico which has much more lax environmental regulations. Despite all the talk of corporate responsibility, most companies will only operate to the level of government standards, even if those standards are very poor. Even the ISO 14000 (environmental management) standard only requires meeting the country in which it is located standard.

Removal of trade barriers which are beneficial to the environment can often occur because they are considered anti-free trade. Again it has been developed countries which have complained the most to WTO about countries developing countries barriers against polluting industries, food safety, and climate change.

Technology transfer is often considered important for improving the environment, especially for energy. Yet the same free trade people are also the people who talk a lot about protecting their "intellectual property". They hide the technology under so-called trade secrets and try to prevent the technology from being spread unless they get a slice (a big slice) of the pie.

Again I will repeat there is no such thing as free trade. It is all just a dream.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I truly believe that we have reached the point where technology has become one with our world, and I can say with 99% certainty that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as memory becomes cheaper, the possibility of transferring our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could see in my lifetime.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4 SDHC[/url] DS BB)