Global Forest Trade Battle Shaping Up

SEATTLE, Washington, July 1, 1999 (ENS) - International forest protection leaders have announced a global campaign to derail World Trade Organization (WTO) plans to write trade agreements that they believe will threaten the world's forests at the upcoming WTO Ministerial meeting this November.

The WTO's 3rd Ministerial Conference, scheduled November 30 to December 3 at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, will open the next major world trade negotiations due to start early in 2000. Ministers and other senior officials from over 150 governments are expected to attend.

The meeting will chaired by United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, and it will launch global negotiations to further open markets in goods, services, and agricultural trade.

"The WTO is a threat to forests around the world, and forest protection activists around the world will work to stop it," said former U.S. Congressman from Indiana Jim Jontz, now executive director of American Lands Alliance.


Forest of old growth jarrah in Australia, highly valued for flooring and furniture. (Photo courtesy courtesy West Australia Department of Conservation and Land Management)
The campaign announcement followed a forest protection meeting held outside Seattle that included 40 activists from 14 countries. Representatives came from forest products exporting nations Indonesia, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, and Russia, where the bulk of the remaining old growth forests are located, and from heavy forest products using countries Japan, the United States and the European Union.

The organizations outlined regional problems in which proposed WTO trade initiatives would accelerate forest destruction.

"With such diversity and depth of experience, we are confident of ending WTO measures that will increase consumption of forest products without any regard for the well-being of the environment," said conference organizer Victor Menotti of International Forum on Globalization, a San Francisco based alliance of activists, scholars, economists and writers.

The coalition has support within the U.S. Congress for its forest protectionist stance. Congressman George Miller, a California Democrat and Congressman Merill Cook, a Utah Republican, circulated a letter to their congressional colleagues in May that stated the threat to forests this way. "The World Trade Organization (WTO) is currently negotiating a new agreement on forest products. The agreement would eliminate tariffs on forest products in developed countries by the year 2000 and developing countries by 2003. In addition, negotiators are discussing the reduction of non-tariff barriers to trade. The agreement would expand the market for forests products without protecting domestic laws or encouraging sustainable logging practices or protecting endangered forests, ecosystems or biodiversity," the two lawmakers wrote.

Miller and Cook want the Clinton administration to stop negotiating for trade liberalization in forest products, "at least and until a comprehensive assessment is conducted."


United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky (Photo courtesy USTR)
Ambassador Barshefsky has stated that completion of the forest products agreement is one of the United States' primary trade targets going into the third Ministerial meeting of the WTO, in Seattle this November.

Barshefsky said last week she would "continue to press" Japan to promote trade liberalization measures in nine sectors including forestry products. Japan is the country with the second highest number of housing starts, a primary use for forest products.

This type of pressure on the world's forests is just what the global campaign launched this week aims to derail. The groups said in a position statement, "The WTO is bad for forests. Measures to expedite trade in forest products will increase consumption without concurrently implementing conservation measures."

"In the WTO, trade provisions are supreme over the laws of nations, taking power away from local communities and governments and giving it to corporations. This makes it a direct threat not only to the world's remaining forests, but also to basic individual and states' rights," the coalition stated.

Wood consumption could increase by between three and four percent if tariffs came down worldwide, said Maureen Smith, vice president international of the American Forest & Paper Association.

The U.S. forest industry's view of how international trade should develop was expressed in testimony before the U.S. International Trade Commission May 26. W. Henson Moore, president and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association, the industry’s trade group, said the industry lacks the same open access to foreign markets enjoyed by its competitors in the U.S. market.

Moore said restrictive trade practices by competing nations and U.S. domestic policies are jeopardizing the future of the industry and its workforce.

In their international meeting, the forest protection coalition developed strategies to preempt decisions at the Seattle Ministerial. Each group will bring pressure to bear on the WTO, from lobbying governments to demonstrations in the streets of Seattle.

"Seattle is a hotbed of forestry activism," said Paige Fischer of Pacific Environment and Resources Center. "The WTO is coming here to sign deals that will fast-track the destruction of the world's forests, so they can expect significant opposition."


Old growth redwoods of northern California's Headwaters Forest (Photo by Djuna Ivereigh courtesy of Environmental Protection Information Center)
The International Forum on Globalization is organizing a teach-in on the World Trade Organization to be held in Seattle, Washington, on November 27, a few days before the WTO Ministerial meeting. The event at the 2,500-seat Benaroya Seattle Symphony Hall will focus on the problems of economic globalization and on the activities of the WTO and other international agreements and institutions.

Forest protection organizations at the Seattle meeting, from the USA unless otherwise indicated, included: A SEED (UK), American Lands Alliance, Bureau for Regional Public Campaigning (Russia/Siberia), Citizens Committee of Puerto Mott (Chile), Earth Justice Law Center, Forum on the Environment (Indonesia), Friends of the Earth, GATT Watchdog (New Zealand), International Forum on Globalization, Institute for Socio-Economic Analysis (Brazil), Otway Foundation (Chile), Pacific Environment and Resources Center, Raincoast Conservation Society (Canada), Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, Tropical Forest Kyoto (Japan), Valhalla Wilderness Society (Canada), World Forest Movement (UK).