Tree Trade: Liberalization of International Commerce in Forest Products: Risks and Opportunities

Tree Trade: Liberalization of International Commerce in Forest Products: Risks and Opportunities

Analyzes the risks and opportunities associated with proposed liberalization of international commerce in forest products, focusing in the negotiations at the WTO Seattle conference.

Notes that unless countries that export forest products improve forest protection policies, laws, and practices, further trade liberalization poses a significant threat to efforts to conserve and sustainably manage forests. The acceleration of tariff elimination -- the current proposal under discussion for forest products at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Summit -- is unlikely to have a large impact on net global trade because most tariffs are already quite low. But eliminating tariffs could have a significant impact on some products and some markets.

Removal of some non-tariff barriers could have far greater negative consequences. There are major concerns about weakening phytosanitary standards, threats to efforts to label forest products, and proposals to outlaw unilateral measures that some local and national governments have taken to reduce the negative environmental and social impacts on forests of consumption of forest products within their territories.

Recommends that trade liberalization that could threaten forests or interfere with their protection should not go forward until mechanisms are put in place to ensure parallel progress on forest protection.

Also highlight five other recommendations, many of which should be implemented independently of the trade policy debate because they make economic and environmental sense in their own right.

  • Eliminate subsidies that encourage inefficiency and harm the environment.
  • Encourage the free flow of information to help ensure consumers are well informed and markets can function efficiently.
  • Clarify WTO's Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
  • Reform trade policies, institutions, and processes to provide for assessment of potential environmental and social impacts
  • Governments should cooperate to strengthen the international and national frameworks for forest protection.