World Rainforest Movement

World Trade Organization to increase wood consumption by 3-4%

The International Forum on Globalization’s newsletter (IFG NEWS) called the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), the main lobby arm of the U.S. timber industry, to clarify a few things about the World Trade Organization (WTO) wood prodcuts agreement now being negotiatied for finalization in Seattle, December, 1999.

In AF&PA, Communications Director Barry Polsky gave us an explanation of how great the WTO agreement would be for the industry and he cited a study they commissioned by Jaakko Poyry, the global forestry consultant based in Finland. The study projects a 3-4 percent increase in wood consumption world wide as the result of total tariff elimination, which is exactly what they are pressing for via the WTO.

We asked for more specifics so we could project what that might mean in volumes and, say, acreage of forests, just to give people some idea of the magnitude of a seemingly paltry 3-4 percent. Polsky referred us directly to Jaakko Poyry, who claimed the study was proprietary material and that we needed to get AF&PA’s authorization. Of course, we already had this because Polsky referred us to the consultant in the first place. But rather than irritating them, we will instead send some reporter from one of the more authoritative dailies to press them for details of the study. IFG NEWS will carry the full story in its next issue.

It’s quite comical: USTR is refusing to acknowledge that tariff elimination has some potential effects on increased consumption and told environmentalists to come up with some proof. Now we learn that the very agenda they are pushing on behalf of the industry is based on the industry’s very premise of increased consumption.

AF&PA also chairs both the ISACs (Industrial Sector Advisory Committees), which are USTR’s formal bodies that shape US negotiatating priorities and positions. Other members include Weyerhaeuser, International Paper, Boise Cascade, Champion, Of course, there is no one representing the protection of forests and workers at the table. Opening up the ISACs is key to changing both the process and the products of US trade and investment policy.

And that’s why they are taking all of this to the WTO and other trade and investment fora; because WE AIN´T AT THE TABLE. They have learned from other industries that they can get just about anything they want at the WTO, especially by defining someting as “trade-distortionary.”

We urgently need to prepare the international forest protection movement to challenge this shift to the WTO. The big decisions affecting forests into the next millennium will be made at the WTO. To access the world’s last native forests for logging, wood products companies need better treatment for their foreign investments. To further stimulate consumption, they need the last trade barriers knocked down. To lock-in minimal restrictions on logging, they want new WTO standards on forestry management. All of this is revealed in their recent statements, such as AF&PA March testimony to Congress on the importance of expanding trade.

The International Forum on Globalization looks forward to working with forest protection groups to develop the capacity to influence this new arena of forest protection: trade and investment policy, and specifically the WTO.

Victor Menotti,