World Rainforest Movement

Trade: NGOs oppose liberalization of the forests products sector

Trade liberalization is being promoted by governments and multilateral agencies as the panacea for the world’s economy. The idea has also reached the forest sector and it is clear that what it really would mean is further forest degradation and destruction. A group of concerned environmental NGOs have issued the following statement:

“NGO Statement of Oppositon to the Proposed Liberalization of the Forest Products Sector

May 1999

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations representing citizens concerned about environment and development, oppose the proposal by the US and other members of APEC to create a ‘free trade agreement’ for forest products.

We condemn the proposal because, if implemented, we fear it will lead to increased logging and consumption of ecologically and socially valuable forests around the globe. We also condemn the proposal because of the undemocratic and ecologically irresponsible manner in which it is being developed.

We are deeply worried about the proposal’s content: the intention is to eliminate tariffs on wood products. This could stimulate increased production and consumption. Another potential agenda item could be the elimination of non-tariff measures (NTMs) which may make it impossible to maintain environmental safeguards such as third-party certification and eco-labelling, strong phytosanitary controls on imports of wood products that carry exotic pests and pathogens, and regulations to promote local industries.

We call on the members of the WTO to refrain from negotiating a forest products agreement until an independent assessment has been made of the social and environment impacts of trade liberalization, and effective steps have been taken to mitigate current impacts on, and avoid future harm to, forest ecosystems and peoples.

We call on the CSD to fulfil its commitment of developing a framework for assessing environmental and social impacts of trade policies and agreements by its next meeting in April.

We also condemn the forest products agreement for the economic paradigm that it perpetuates: the WTO and its members have ignored the potential adverse effects of trade liberalization on forest ecosystems and forest communities by failing to assess the environmental and social impacts of timber trade liberalization and on liberalization in other sectors that affect forests and forest peoples. The WTO and its members have also failed to adequately involve civil society in timber trade and other liberalization discussions.

The proposal for a forest products agreement reflects an economic agenda which prioritises trade
liberalization as an end in itself rather than as a means which, in some circumstances, may be useful for improving environmental protection and quality of life. This agenda does not take into consideration the concerns of the people and communities who are ultimately affected.

We the undersigned look forward to responses from our governments, the CSD and the WTO regarding our concerns over the proposed forest sector liberalization.

Fern UK/Brussels, Saskia Ozinga; WWF International, Charlie Arden Clarke; World Rainforest Movement, Ricardo Carrere; Greenpeace International, Patrick Anderson; Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Sarah Tyack; Friends of the Earth, Congo Democratic Republic/CADIC, Swedi Elongo; Friends of the Earth Australia, Leonie van der Maesen; Friends of the Earth France/Amis de la Terre, Helene Ballande; Towards a Different Europe, Olivier Hoedeman; ERA Cameroon, Emile Tanawa”

Source: Saskia Ozinga, Fern/ WRM, 17/6/99,