WTO advisor calls for international standards to support trade of plastics

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Carolyn Deere Birkbeck
Carolyn Deere Birkbeck

An advisor to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has suggested that there should be international standards that support the trade of virgin and secondary plastics.

Carolyn Deere Birkbeck, who is director of Forum on Trade, Environment and the SDGS, made a statement at the WTO Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade meeting on 21 July, in which she made a series of recommendations to use trade and new regulations to reduce plastic pollution.

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The WTO is expected to set out political commitments to reduce plastic pollution at the Twelfth Ministerial Confence (MC12) that is taking place in Geneva later this year. It is currently discussing this in this Informal Dialogue session.

In her statement, she set out six recommendations that could be made to lead to more sustainable use of plastics. These were:

(1) Ensure that single-use and other environmentally harmful plastics that Members currently
restrict or ban domestically are not exported to other countries.
(2) Promote trade in non-plastic substitutes; environmentally sound technologies, goods, and
services for waste management; and recycling technologies that can help reduce plastic
pollution, including through cooperation to lower or eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers,
and take action to facilitate trade in recycled plastics and recyclable plastic wastes designed
for certified environmentally-sound recycling facilities, in line with existing international
processes and relevant provisions of MEAs such as the Basel Convention.
(3) Adopt voluntary pledges accompanied by concrete measures to reduce trade in avoidable,
problematic and environmentally harmful single use plastics, plastic products and plastic
packaging associated with international trade and to better coordinate internationally on
requirements for more environmentally sustainable packaging.
(4) Agree to boost Aid for Trade to support developing countries to design and implement trade
policies related to plastic pollution as a complement to existing international processes and
in accordance with relevant provisions of MEAs such as the Basel Convention (including
legislative support and for customs authorities); build trade capacity for non-plastic
substitutes; meet plastics-related sustainability standards; and access technologies for
environmentally sound waste management.
(5) Provide guidance and leadership by identifying priorities for work in other relevant
international bodies that is necessary to support more environmentally sustainable plastics
trade. This could include:
• Calling for the development of international standards and labelling for plastics in the
relevant international processes (such as UNEA and the ISO) that would promote a
more environmentally sustainable plastics sector, along with cooperation that
enhances the flow of information about the chemical characteristics and composition
of plastic products and wastes traded internationally.
• Calling for cooperation at the World Custom’s Organization to update the Harmonized
System (HS) of trade classifications in ways that enable governments gather the data
they need to monitor trade in plastics, and pursue evidence-based regulation of trade
to reduce plastic pollution.
(6) Commit to a workplan for ongoing dialogue and monitoring, including to:
• Continue efforts to enhance transparency, information-sharing and coordination that
would boost the effectiveness of the current patchwork of trade measures related to
plastic waste and products (working with other IGOs and stakeholders). In addition to
the topics noted above, this work could include explore additional issues such as
environmentally-harmful subsidies relevant to the plastics sector and international
coordination of extended producer responsibility systems.
• Advance concrete cooperation action and policy coordination on specific topics noted
above. This will be vital to make real the commitments on the topics proposed above.

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