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General Agreement on Tariffs And Trade

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was first signed in 1947. The agreement was designed to provide an international forum that encouraged free trade between member states by regulating and reducing tariffs on traded goods and by providing a common mechanism for resolving trade disputes. GATT membership now includes more than 110 countries.

Consideration of GATT's relationship to environmental policy is an emerging concern in trade and environmental policy circles. Until the recently concluded Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations, the word environment did not appear in the GATT text. Several provisions and sections of GATT may be relevant to environmental issues, however. The following sections of GATT are often referenced in the examination of trade-environment issues. The excerpts are from GATT as amended through 1966, originally digitized by the Multilaterals Project of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University:

The GATT Final Act Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round contains several other relevant items:

The complete Uruguay Round text is also available on-line. Explicit environmental concern related to GATT has grown in the last few years. Although formally organized in 1971, a GATT committee on environment met for the first time in 1991. Also in 1991 a GATT dispute-resolution panel made a ruling in the tuna-dolphin case, a dispute between the United States and Mexico over limiting imports based on fishing practices. Issues in the tuna-dolphin dispute are described by Cough (1993) in "Trade-Environment Tensions"; in the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (1992) report Trade and the Environment; and in the GATT dispute panel report (1991) on the case. In 1992, GATT produced "Trade and the Environment," a report that offered GATT's recommendations on the relationship between international trade and environmental measures.

The recent cases, the 1992 report, and growing international consideration of the relationship between trade and environmental policy have focused attention on GATT's influence on international environmental agreements. In some ways, GATT is seen as potentially limiting or barring trade provisions in environmental agreements. Environmental, legal, and other experts have also called for reform of GATT to accommodate international concern for environmental issues.

Charnovitz (1992) examines the potential of GATT to limit trade-based implementations in environmental agreements in "GATT and the Environment." In "Free International Trade and Protection of the Environment," Schoenbaum (1992) evaluates the impact of existing GATT provisions and discusses when trade restrictions may be appropriate within environmental agreements. Weiss (1992) comments on Schoenbaum's article in "Environment and Trade as Partners in Sustainable Development," suggesting that global consensus on sustainable development as a guiding policy principle has added weight and priority to environmental concerns in relation to trade policy.