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Post-Rio Sustainable Development and the Summit

Maurice F. Strong

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Trade and Sustainable Development

Despite the movement toward a global economy and more open trading system, there are some signs of a "fortress North" mentality developing in the wealthy industrial countries. While this mentality is not yet dominant, it does not bode well for future relationships with the developing world.

At the same time, environmentalists have protested that free trade will encourage growth in developing countries based on models that are unsustainable, at the expense of the environment; further, it has been suggested that free trade will tend to lower overall environmental standards. These concerns resulted in unilateral action on the part of the United States to ban tuna imports from Mexico, and led to incorporation of the "side agreement" on the environment in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the creation in Montreal of a fine mechanism, the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation for monitoring, reviewing, and initiating cooperation with respect to these issues.

Developing countries fear that environmental concerns may be used as a pretext to implement new protectionist measures which would inhibit their development and exports. And the position taken by some environmentalists ¾ such as those who recently elicited voluntary bans on lumber from British Columbia, in Canada ¾ lends credence to those fears. Not all restraints on trade are official; increasingly, unofficial restraints can have an important effect.

All of this means that the environmental dimension will become a much more important and controversial factor in trade negotiations, and in their implementation, in the period ahead.

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