ASEAN Workshop on International Trade in ASEAN Agriculture and Forest Products and Measures to Align Trade and the Environment, Hua Hin, Thailand, August 26-28, 1998.

By Tongroj Onchan

The genesis of trade and environment

The marriage between trade and environment has not only brought about a fresh, new perspective into the theoretical foundation of the traditional concept of "perfect" production systems (i.e., no waste was considered in the traditional production theory), it has also accentuated the needs to give a sufficient attention to the potential threat of ignoring "externalities" which might upset the sustainability of the production process itself. As we face increasing pressure on the environment and limited natural resource endowment, the question which was once raised about the context and the legitimacy of linking trade with the environment becomes less and less relevant; even the well-established World Trade Organization has now fully embraced the trade and environment linkage under its Committee on Trade and Environment.

Sustaining and nurturing a marriage is perhaps more difficult than performing the marriage itself. By the same token, bringing environmental concerns under well-accepted international trade rules of WTO has never been easy. The fact that no achievement was made in CTE's report to the WTO's first ministerial meeting in Singapore in 1996 signified how difficult, in practice, taking up this issue can be under a multilateral system of international negotiation. Specifically, this can be see from attempts to solve conflicts under WTO's Article XX or the General Exception, in which the North tried, unsuccessfully so far, to waive actions taken in the name of environmental protection. More complication is already seen as environmental concerns are connected to agricultural trade because agriculture is always seen as a country's most sensitive sector, in many respects.

I have no time to deliberate all such concerns, but let me highlight only a few for your further discussion in this forum. And I wish to make my points most relevant specifically to Thailand, not any other countries which I know very little of, and feel not in my capacity to speak on their behalf. Representing an NGO, I cannot help reassuring you that I shall try to maintain my neutrality by giving you my genuine expressions and concerns.