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European Union Trade Regulations Concerning the Environment

Trade, Environment and Forces Working Together for Sustaining Development 

            The need to achieve synergies between trade and environmental policies is recognized as a sensitive and complex question of the day. The forest and forest products sector represent many issues currently at stake. The multiple functions of forests are vital to the environment and at the same time many forest-linked products are traded on an everyday basis.

            The goal of the ECE, while in committee, is to engage trade policy makers and trade negotiators at the international level. An exchange of information and sharing of views on key trade issues of trade policy development will prove crucial in an effort to support policies relating to sustainable forest management.

            The forest and timber sector is one of the hot spots in the trade/environment discussion for a few reasons. One of which is an acute global problem including, but not limited to deforestation with the caravan of economic, social and environment suffering which it brings in its train. Additionally, there is an active global trade in forest products, and many countries suffering from deforestation are also exporters.

Many activities, experts, and governments have enthusiastically promoted trade-related measures as one way in which the industrialized countries can influence the trend. This has aroused concerns about infringement of sovereignty and the creation of technical barriers to trade masquerading as environment protection measures.

Major Problems         

•  LOGGING - Illegal activities such as logging in the forest sector have been emerging as a major problem in some developing or transition countries. This issue is contributing to the unsustainable use of forest resources and forest depletion.

•  TRACKING PROGRESS - National reporting is yet another sensitive issue, because although it provides a means of evaluating progress, it also places a significant burden on countries. In this regard, the committee invites member nations to propose ways of streamlining forest-related reporting to international organizations and bodies.

•  FUNDING - Public expenditure on forestry usually comes from two main sources: domestic financing, including government revenue from taxes and duties, as well as government borrowing; and, in the case of developing countries, international financing through grants and loans. In addition, an important means of domestic financing in some countries is revenue collected in the form of charges, fees and taxes. Faced with many demands for public services, most governments assign a low priority to financing of forestry . In fact, several country reports noted that public expenditure on forestry accounted for less than 1 percent of the total, and it seems likely that this is the case throughout Africa . On the basis of 24 country reports, the average total public expenditure on forestry in 1999 was US$0.82 per hectare (FAO, 2002a). However, international financing accounted for about 45 percent, making the average level of domestic financing only US$0.45 per hectare.

•  BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY Not only is forestry affected when the balance between trade and environment is interrupted, so is the natural life that dwells within. Conserving biological diversity is an ethical imperative because all life has a right to exist, and humans should not knowingly cause any loss of this diversity. From a more practical angle, biological diversity provides many benefits to humans, supporting the systems that store and cycle nutrients essential for life, absorbing and breaking down pollutants, recharging groundwater, producing soil and protecting it from excessive erosion, providing the basis for all improvements to domesticated plants and animals, and providing numerous raw materials for industry and medicine. In more general terms, the variation in life provides the basis for adapting to changing conditions.

The issue of threatening local sovereignty is sometimes clearly used as a political tool for barricading the road for new legislature to be passed. This must be worked past and eliminated in order for new progress to be made. There are incentives in both the trade and forestry fields for new legislation to be passed. The end result could be cleaner, safer forests capable of sustaining life and providing valuable commodities that can be traded on the market.

Written by Jose Diaz.

Credit: un.org, unece.org, earthwatch.unep.net

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