Ms. Donelan's letter regarding my article on Cambodia and the GATT both misses
the essential point and accuses the GATT for not doing what it has not been given
a mandate to do. Moreover, environmental considerations, which are very recent in
terms of public policy implications, are reasons for joining the organization, rather
than the contrary. Only in the GATT can a country seek redress over the interaction
between trade policy and the environment.
To return to what I wrote. The purpose was twofold. First, to relay information on
Cambodia's historical involvement with the GATT which very few people are aware of.
Publicizing a vital little known fact means that should a new government opt to become
a member (Laos, and China previously, and Vietnam, recently, have both put out feelers
to this end), they are in a uniquely important position. The other essential point
flows from my view that Cambodia's future-because of its small domestic market in
terms of purchasing power and limited natural resource potential-lies in joining
an economic trade zone. Should it accept to do so, and the Thais have taken a lead
in proposing this for the region, then the provisions of the GATT treaty provide
it, unlike any other international organization operating in this field, with the
wherewithal to defend its national interests. Does Ms. Donelan really believe that
Cambodia can stand outside with Burma while all its neighbors are either members
or trying to negotiate their accession?
The deterrent aspects of GATT's protective features probably account for the fact
that developing countries make up two thirds of the member countries.
Ms. Donelan's other comments touched on developing country debt; commodity prices;
the Uruguay Round; and the environment. The former two are not in the GATT mandate;
anyone who has worked in an international secretariat knows member governments do
not let international organizations step outside their proscribed area. The Uruguay
Round can only be ignored by those unfamiliar with, or indifferent to, the contribution
of economic efficiency and the trading system to postwar economic prosperity.
Having been the author of GATT's first study on the environment in 1972 I share some
of the concerns raised by Ms. Donelan. Just four quick facts to be brief.
GATT Article XX permits a member to place health, safety or domestic resource conservation
goals ahead of non-discrimination, when certain conditions are fulfilled. The statement
that the "environment committee has met only since 1945!" is false. It
was only created in 1972; its current focus is on the trade provisions in environmental
agreements vis-à-vis legal obligations under GATT. Treatment of environmental
issues internationally is complex largely through scientific disagreement as to where
to cut-off wholly domestic issues from transborder spillovers and effects on the
global commons. Finally, one of the objectives of the Uruguay Round is to establish
disciplines that will permit governments-whether developed or developing-to provide
necessary protection for humans, animals and plants while minimizing the adverse
effects that such measures may have on each others international trade.
For the moment, GATT rules can not block the adoption of environmental policies which
have the broad support of the world community. This is simply because the support
of two-thirds of GATT membership-currently 69 out of 103 countries-is sufficient
to amend the rules or grant a waiver.