Panel intervention by Mr. Dagfinn Sørli, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO and EFTA, Norway
Let me first thank the organizers for bringing us together to focus on the various aspects of Sustainable Development Goal 14.
I represent a nation that is and has always been dependent on the marine environment – as a source of food, income, and livelihood, for transportation and trade, as well as for climatic conditions.
Our coastline is one of the longest in the world, and the marine areas we manage are more than five times larger than the land. Industries related to the ocean account for nearly 70 per cent of Norwegian export earnings. Any issue related to the ocean is therefore a high priority for Norway. Preventing and reducing marine litter and plastic pollution is high on our list of priorities.
In 2019 the Basel Convention was amended, strengthening the control of transboundary movements of plastic waste.
A few weeks ago, another milestone was reached. At the 5th UN Environmental Assembly an agreement was reached to start negotiations of an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. Norway has been a strong advocate for such an agreement and stands ready to lead and support in the next stages.
Norway also participates in the Informal Dialogue on Plastics in the WTO, as we believe that this initiative can contribute positively to the UN process. WTO is not the place where the bulk of the action will be when the global community addresses plastic pollution, but trade related measures have a role to play.
Tackling plastic pollution will require changes in the way we produce, trade and consume. Coherent and concerted action at the national, regional and global levels is required. There is no quick fix. There is not one single line of action or simple solution.
Trade plays a part in all stages of the life cycle of plastics. Plastics are traded in the form of raw materials, intermediary products, finished products, packaging and waste. Because trade is part of the problem, trade policy must be part of the solution.
So, what is the contribution of the WTO? In short: The WTO can contribute to the diagnostics as well as the therapeutics.
With diagnostics I refer to the need to understand the nature of the challenge before we design the remedy. To understand the plastics challenge, we need to understand the plastics economy, including trade flows, supply chains and market dynamics. The WTO can contribute to this understanding.
Turning to the therapeutics, trade policy is part of the toolbox available to governments. Trade policy can support our efforts to reduce the consumption of unnecessary or harmful plastics; promote trade in goods and services that can reduce plastic pollution, as well as promoting trade in sustainable substitutes and alternatives, reused and recycled plastics.
Enhanced cross-border circularity could also be a part of the solution. We can identify and remove trade barriers to cross-border circularity and trade barriers for business models that enhance cross-border circularity.
It should be noted that governments have already implemented trade related measures in relation to the plastics challenge. According to the WTO secretariat, more than 130 measures affecting trade in plastics have been implemented.
The WTO provides an arena for transparency about measures taken. Transparency is a prerequisite for building trust, and trust is a prerequisite for meaningful negotiations as well as for the sustainability of any agreement reached.
Transparency also provides an opportunity for sharing of experiences that may assist governments in their search for effective approaches to move towards a more circular, resource efficient and environmentally sustainable plastics economy.
Norway acknowledges that different countries will have different needs. We are open to understand better the needs of different countries for capacity building and technical assistance to design and implement trade policies to deal with plastic pollution.
It should be noted that most measures taken by governments are in the form of technical regulations. This is natural, but it underlines the importance of understanding the interaction between technical regulations and trade policy.
The WTO rule book provides ample room for regulations that promotes sustainability, with some guiding principles attached, such as the obligation not to be more trade restrictive than necessary, as well as the more general principle of non-discrimination.
These and other guiding principles should not be seen as limiting the policy space of governments, but rather as guarding rails helping governments to refrain from beggar-thy-neighbor policies.
Measures that are harmful to others will at some point be challenged, and agreements that are not accepted as reasonably fair by the parties will not be sustainable. The principles underlying the WTO may therefore be helpful as a guidance that may help policies and agreements to stand the test of time.
In short: Trade is part of the problem, but trade is also part of the solution.