WTO's Informal Dialogue group seeks to address plastics trade data gaps / Talks on transparency, international cooperation / Trade and environment committee discusses climate change, sustainability
The WTO’s Informal Dialogue seeks to establish a sustainable and transparent international plastics trade (Photo: PantherMedia/Harvepino)
Members of the Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade – launched in 2020 by members of the World Trade Organization (WTO, – met on 29 March 2021 to establish a “solid factual basis” in their efforts to cut plastics pollution and promote sustainable plastics trade. Discussions focused on enhancing transparency and international cooperation, with a view to reaching an outcome at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) set to be held in Geneva / Switzerland in the week of 29 November 2021.

“Trade can and must play a role in ensuring the transition towards an environmentally sustainable plastics economy,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said. “Several specific trade policies can have a positive impact in this transition, such as harmonised standards, carefully crafted regulations and trade facilitation measures.”

Participants at the March meeting tried to identify where data is missing and learn about steps taken by other international organisations and stakeholders to explore the role trade and the WTO could play in supporting international efforts.

Anare Leweniqila of Fiji, one of the group’s coordinators, invited all WTO members to comment on two documents, a concept note and the roadmap, which were circulated on 24 March to help members move towards a tangible outcome at MC12. The concept note concerns technical work to be undertaken to improve transparency and international cooperation in plastics trade, while the roadmap proposes a ministerial declaration as a potential outcome at MC12.
UN trade group and WTO officials wrestle with obstacles to data collection
Both the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD, Geneva; and the WTO Secretariat outlined some of the challenges in collecting data on plastics trade, although the WTO did not provide any further details on what these problems are.

UNCTAD has undertaken a joint study with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva; covering trade data across the entire plastics life cycle – from raw inputs through to the end-product and waste. The UN published the results on 4 February in a paper entitled “Global trade in plastics: insights from the first life-cycle trade database”.

Group coordinators added suggestions. Australia’s deputy permanent representative to the WTO, Patricia Homes said the WTO could assist in collecting relevant information to fill in the data gap on policies and regulations. Barbados’ WTO ambassador Chad Blackman proposed that the WTO could complement existing work by creating a central platform for monitoring and evaluating developments in global plastics production, trade flow and supply chains. Others said the Informal Dialogue should also discuss eliminating any imbalance or disadvantage faced by developing countries in relation to the global plastics economy.

With regard to international cooperation, several organisations shared their experiences to date. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, Nairobi / Kenya; said it intended to synergise work under the Basel Convention by collaborating with the Informal Dialogue to address plastics pollution “coherently and efficiently”. The Basel Convention is a multilateral agreement that aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous and other wastes.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, Paris / France; provided information on its upcoming “Global Plastics Outlook”, a report on trade policies and future scenarios, as well as its work on monitoring the transboundary movement of waste.

Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum (WEF, Geneva; introduced its multi-stakeholder initiative, the “Global Plastics Action Partnership”, and a pilot case study in Ghana to help advance national plastics action strategies.

The next Informal Dialogue meeting will again take place back-to-back with the Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) meeting, potentially in June. Other topics up for discussion include strengthening policy coherence, assessing capacity and technical assistance needs, and identifying the scope for collective approaches.
CTE talks on climate change and sustainability
At the 30 March meeting of the CTE, WTO members discussed measures to tackle climate change and strengthen sustainability. The EU updated members on its carbon border adjustment mechanism and other trade-related aspects of its Green Deal (see of 27.01.2020).

The carbon border adjustment mechanism is designed to address the risk of “carbon leakage”, in other words, the possibility that companies would shift production to, or import finished goods from, countries with lower carbon costs. Following public consultations and impact assessments, the EU expects to start the process for adopting a decision on the mechanism in June this year, with a view to implement by 2023.

EU members also provided information on its environment-friendly food systems – or the “farm-to-fork” strategy – along with its new overall trade strategy launched in February, which it said “puts sustainability at the heart of trade policy”.

With regard to national environmental measures, the Central African Republic talked about its efforts to address plastics pollution, while the Maldives reported on its initiatives to promote environment-friendly products and pursue a green economy.
03.05.2021 [247452-0]
Published on 03.05.2021

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