Trade and biodiversity
The European Union is the world’s biggest trading bloc. A Green Week Panel debated the impact that trade and Europe’s consumption of goods and natural resources are having on biodiversity across the planet.
Trade brings many benefits, but the effect of distance means that consumers are not always aware of negative impacts. Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, MEP and member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, told Green Week audiences of the need to trade “in the right way”, with checks and balances from government and regulation.
John Bazill, DG TRADE
By setting standards for the EU (and potentially the US, through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) we set standards for the world, he said, making a case for biodiversity and nature protection in every trade agreement, supported by lower tariffs for green products and sustainable production. He recommended challenging companies to use domestic environmental standards in their operations abroad – and to do better at implementing the regulations we have in the EU.
The world’s poorest are hit hardest by biodiversity loss. Gerbrandy noted how consumers do care about such matters, and would react positively in the face of more labelling and obligatory reporting. Nature protection must be a higher political priority, he said.
John Bazill, Senior Trade and Environment Officer in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade, noted the importance of multilateral international agreements in this area. The WTO agreement explicitly mentions sustainable development as a goal, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade allows signatories to protect their environments as long as they do not impose stricter conditions on others than on themselves. Some bilateral trade agreements refer to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to promote biodiversity, and preserve the right to regulate.
Trade can support biodiversity, he said. Brazil nuts, for example, due to their complex pollination system, can only grow in a rainforest with rich biodiversity, giving producers a natural incentive to protect the natural areas where they are found. Conservation is complex, and so is the policy response. “Trade policy is only part of the jigsaw puzzle,” he said.
Businesses too can act. Mario Abreu, a vice president of Tetra Pak International, noted how the company's adage “a package should save more than it costs” can also apply to natural resources.
The company makes packages from wood fibre, so it works on preserving forests as a member of the High Conservation Value Resource Network and the Forest Stewardship Council. It has also worked with BirdLife International, studying bird observation as a proxy indicator for biodiversity.
One promising result was the launch in October 2014 of a fully renewable, bio-based container that uses no fossil components.
Abreu also pleaded for a level playing field at the international level for biodiversity and trade, and for regulatory action to this end. There is a strong business case for high standards, he said: preserving natural capital means preserving economic assets.