The world trading system and the role it plays in international relations
THE WTO AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Gary P. Sampson; pub. by U.N. University Press, New York and TERI Press, The Energy and Resources Institute, Darbari Seth Block, IHC Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi-110003. Rs. 525.Deliberating on the relationship between trade and sustainable development, Sampson delves deep into the world trading system and the role it plays in international economic and political relations which have changed dramatically in the past half a century. Sustainable development is defined as "securing a growth path that provides for the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." World trade having grown consistently more rapidly than world production since World War II, countries now trade a far greater share of their production than they did half a century ago.It is recognised that policies bearing on both trade and sustainable development can - and indeed must - be consistent and mutually supportive. This aspect was strongly reaffirmed by trade ministers at the Ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar (9-14, November 2001) and further stressed less than a year later, in September 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, by environment ministers. As Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and former European Union Commissioner for Trade (1999-2004), emphasises in his overview, "trade opening is neither natural nor automatically beneficial, in and of itself. It needs a system based on rules coupled with adequate domestic policies."
With a view to reviewing the relationship between trade policies as conducted in the WTO and policies designed to promote sustainable development, as the author avows in the introduction, the book concludes that the WTO has, in fact, gravitated towards becoming a World Trade and Sustainable Development Organisation. The author is at pains to remind the reader that sustainable "development is an objective identified in the Preamble to the Agreement establishing the WTO," as he examines "how a number of key WTO provisions have been interpreted in the past, speculate on their future interpretation and evaluate the implications for sustainable development."Attention is drawn to international concern regarding the implications of future global growth for the environment and social development following the publishing of the Club of Rome's report 'The Limits to Growth' in 1972. Its main conclusion was that, if current trends continued, the global system would "overshoot" and collapse by the year 2000. These concerns led to the convening of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. A more specific environmental concern emerged at the November 1982 GATT Ministerial meeting in Geneva relating to products that were prohibited in developed countries and exported to developing countries. Although sustainable development per se does not loom large on the agenda of the WTO, there are disputes over endangered species, public health and genetically modified organisms, among others, as there are agreements that deal with access to essential medicines and the patenting of life forms that have implications for the conservation of biodiversity.
The book traverses an important and sensitive journey, reviewing institutional efforts at the intergovernmental level over the past 50 years to address one of the key aspects of sustainable development - namely, environmental management. While the WTO's predecessor, the GATT, was concerned with environment primarily as potential barriers to market access, the nature of the environment-related issues now under consideration at the WTO has broadened well beyond the original concerns about the environment. As there is an account of how the link between trade liberalisation and sustainable development has been dealt with in the WTO from a substantive perspective, the following chapter addresses a number of provisions in the WTO agreements that have a particular relevance for sustainable development. Again, chapter five addresses the implications for the WTO of the growing consumer demand for improved product and service standards that has come with higher income levels, pleading that such standards should be no more restrictive than necessary and should not undermine market access commitments. A controversial issue generating as much public agitation as recent developments in biotechnology is discussed in chapter seven; chapter nine traces the manner in which developing countries' concerns about the multilateral trading system have been dealt with, from the early days of GATT to the present. The changing importance of the WTO and the new perceptions of its role in global affairs evolved over time are dealt with , which also debates charges that the WTO is undemocratic, non-transparent and non-responsive to the needs of the citizens of its member countries. The final and penultimate chapters turn to one of the important features of the World Summit on Sustainable Development - the search for a more coherent system of global governance in order to deal effectively with sustainable development at the global level.