Source: WTO News
Headline: How can cooperation on trade contribute to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) process on plastic pollution?
Thank you very much Mr Chair, Minister. I very much appreciate your invitation to take part.
I would like to make three points from the WTO perspective.
First, about the state of play of the plastic discussion in the organization: My central message is that we detect an increasing interest from our Members to discuss the environmental implications of plastic trade and plastic waste.
Not that the subject be fully new: we have traces of discussion of it as early as 1995 in the Committee on Trade and Environment.
But it is really intensifying over the last years. One indicator of this is that we see that our Members have increasingly used trade policies to address plastic pollution. From our databases, we have, over the last 10 years, more than 130 measures affecting plastic trade, which is a phenomenon which is accelerating because two thirds of these measures have been adopted over the last 4 years.
Discussions in all the committees have also intensified. But clearly the IDP initiative or the Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade has been a game changer over the last year and it has helped boost and focus the discussion much more than before.
My second point relates to substance: we are starting to have a better understanding of how trade policy and the fight against plastic pollution interact.
We can see for instance when we are digging into the discussions of the Technical Barriers to Trade and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committees, we find very interesting facts about the policies that our Members are conducting.
We can see, for instance, that most measures affecting plastic are technical requirements, import licenses and regulatory restrictions; in some cases, we found types of tax schemes designed to penalize hard-to-recycle plastic or incentivize alternatives. This is an interesting window here.
The second element is that our Members have heavily concentrated on the downstream stages of the plastics lifecycle: almost 80% of the notified measures really comes from the downstream part of the plastic lifecycle, especially single use plastic bags, plastic waste and recycling. The remaining part applies to primary plastics, plastic based inputs, and finished goods so maybe there is food for thought here in terms of whether the focus is sufficient.
We do also have improved our understanding of the type of intervention that could be considered from trade policies to support the transition to a more sustainable plastics economy. A lot of them have been touched upon by Madame Durant. They include:
lowering trade barriers on environmental goods and services to promote plastics circularity;
standards and regulations needed to ensure recyclability and compostability;
facilitation and capacity building for more circular supply chains;
and not but not least the exploration of economic drivers of more sustainable plastics, including alternatives to plastics, and harmful subsidies.
My third point would be to emphasize how global the issue is in the WTO: within our discussions, plastics tends to represent, in my view, a bridge building issue between developed and developing countries.
Notably 80% of the trade measures that I was referring to in my first point come from developing countries and LDCs: this indicates that they really see trade policy as part of discussion and the solutions.
Very important to note also that the Informal Dialogue on Plastic has gathered the support of developed, developing and LDC Members, with a particular attention to Small Island Developing States.
From those discussions, we observed that there is a clear need to further develop technical assistance to least developed and developing countries alike to tackle the plastic issue, in particular, in Island States.
There is one puzzling thing I would like to share with you, that is, some countries have so far participated in the UNEA process that we are gathering about today, but not to the IDP process at the WTO. And others have participated in the IDP without participating in the UNEA. So, there is something a little puzzling and we need to dig into that to understand the motivations and promote the best complementarity possible between the two processes.
With all that in mind, we are heading toward our ministerial meeting in November and clearly it will be in the hands of our Members to see whether they want to take another step on this issue, which follows your suggestions. Thank you.