Government issues new trade and environment framework

  • Marian Hobbs

New guidelines will see environmental issues considered alongside economic objectives when trade agreements are negotiated, Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton and Environment Minister Marian Hobbs announced today.

The newly issued Framework for Integrating Environment Objectives and Trade Agreements will apply to both multilateral and bilateral trade agreements.

The framework will have applications in a broad range of agreements, from World Trade Organisation negotiations to the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement currently being negotiated with Hong Kong

“We want trade and environment policies to work together to promote sustainable development,” Marian Hobbs said.

“This framework will ensure that sustainable development is an objective when new agreements are negotiated.”

The release of the framework has been timed to provide guidance to New Zealand negotiators at the upcoming meeting of WTO Ministers in Doha, Qatar from 9-13 November.

Mr Sutton said the WTO needed to address its role in creating sustainable development among its members.

“For example, we’re using the WTO framework to try and eliminate subsidies that contribute to collapsing fish stocks and unsustainable agricultural practices in so many parts of the world.

“Others are talking about ‘clarifying the rules’ on trade and environment. While that work is important, it’s no substitute for action in the areas we have been promoting.”

Mr Sutton also stressed the importance of not using environmental concerns as a veil for economic protectionism or to impair the ability of developing countries to have access for their products into wealthy markets.

The framework is posted on the websites of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry ( and the Environment Ministry (

Framework for Integrating Environment Standards and Trade Agreements

Environment and Trade Policies

New Zealanders place a high value on protecting and enhancing the environment. They expect it to be cared for at home and they expect their government to play its part in meeting challenges to sustainable development at the global level, including climate change, ozone depletion, collapsing fishing stocks, and conservation of biodiversity which require international action. Some of the actions we take in pursuit of our domestic and international environment objectives may, legitimately, have an impact on trade.

New Zealand is also a trading nation. To us the agreements of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are not merely technical rules with which we seek to advance our national interest. They embody important principles which aim to make the world more equitable, prosperous and peaceful.

The government’s aim is harmonise its objectives for trade and for the environment, with both serving the overarching objective of promoting sustainable development.

Linkages Between Trade and Environment Policy Principles

The linkages between trade and environment policy are complex and important. Complex, because trade liberalisation, and the greater economic activity which comes from it, may increase the strain on the environment and the earth’s resources while, at the same time, increasing the wealth which enables societies to meet their economic needs. Trade liberalisation, therefore, may in itself be neither necessarily beneficial nor necessarily harmful to the environment. The impact on the environment will depend on how liberalisation and environment policies are designed and implemented.

The government believes that maintaining high standards for environment protection is both important in its own right and fully compatible with economic prosperity. Our aims, domestically and internationally, are to develop sound, sustainable policies in both trade and environment management; and to ensure that the policies are mutually supportive. When constructed with care, trade agreements can and do provide scope for action to be taken to mitigate any harm that comes from increased economic activity.

Given the importance of trade to development, it is vital that environment standards are not misused for protectionist reasons. Genuine environment objectives are never served by discriminating between products on the basis of their respective national origins Governments should design environmental standards to meet their objectives rather than seek to prescribe the ways in which others must meet the standards. Not all countries will have access to the same technologies.

Environment and Trade Policy Principles

New Zealand policy in multilateral trade and environment fora, and in bilateral negotiations, will be informed and guided by the following principles.

a) The government is committed to ensuring that its objectives for sustainable development are reflected in all its international negotiations.

b) The government will promote greater coherence between multilateral environment and trade agreements and greater cooperation between the institutions which service them.

c) The government is committed to providing a liberal and rules-based trading environment. In all trade and economic agreements we negotiate we will be careful to ensure that the government’s ability to regulate as it sees fit for the protection of New Zealand’s environment is not compromised or encumbered.

d) Agreements to advance international environment objectives sometimes need to be reinforced by trade measures. New Zealand will work to ensure that the WTO continues to show proper respect for internationally agreed rules for the protection of the environment.

e) New Zealand wants a sustainable international trading system which maximises the opportunities for all countries to participate in the global economy. To this end New Zealand will:

* seek standards that focus on the environmental objective which is being promoted, rather than seek to prescribe unnecessarily the method by which the objective should be reached;
* respect the right of other governments to determine their own domestic regulations where these impact only on the environment in their own jurisdictions and do not result in breaches of international rules on either environment or trade;
* work to eliminate export subsidies and other payments which encourage increased production;
* oppose the use of environment standards as a form of economic protectionism from lower priced international competition;
* oppose the use of measures that discriminate between products on the basis of their respective national origins.