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"Global Free Logging Agreement" Must Be Outed


4 July 1999

"Global Free Logging Agreement" Must Be Outed And Axed before November WTO Meeting - GATT Watchdog

Wellington may not see eye to eye with Washington over lamb tariffs but the two governments are in cahoots in pushing for a global trade agreement to eliminate remaining tariffs on forest products - with dire consequences for the world's forests, says GATT Watchdog.

GATT Watchdog organiser Aziz Choudry recently returned from an international meeting on forests and globalisation near Seattle, focusing on the upcoming World Trade Organisation Ministerial Meeting and the launch of a new round of negotiations. Representatives of non-government organisations in USA, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, Japan and Europe met to discuss strategies about how to stop the agreement.

"The New Zealand government can't see the woods for the trees on matters of trade and the environment. This forestry agreement is just one example of an extreme economic agenda which promotes trade liberalisation as an end in itself. It needs to be outed and axed," says Aziz Choudry.

"US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky has stated that completion of the wood products agreement is one of the USA's primary trade goals for the upcoming Ministerial. And Lockwood Smith has repeatedly argued that the liberalisation of trade in forestry and fish products is a high priority for New Zealand trade policy," he said.

In April, GATT Watchdog sought, under the Official Information Act, documents relating to negotiations on the forestry agreement from MAF, MFAT and Ministry for the Environment. After demands for several thousand dollars for the information, the group has referred the matter to the Ombudsmen's Office for investigation and review.

"This proposal, dubbed the 'Global Free Logging Agreement' by its opponents, is part of an eight sector Accelerated Tariff Liberalisation package which was shunted from APEC to the WTO after failure to reach consensus among APEC member countries. The agreement is scheduled for completion at the third Ministerial meeting of the WTO to be held in Seattle at the end of November. It is a declaration of intent to increase logging and further decimate forests around the world".

Canada's government also supports the forestry agreement. But Japan, which wants to protect its domestic wood processing industries has resisted the plan in APEC and is likely to do so at the WTO. Many developing countries seek a review of existing GATT/WTO agreements, and are wary of moves to introduce new issues.

"The Accelerated Tariff Liberalisation (ATL) initiative aims to eliminate tariffs on all forest and paper products by the year 2000 for "developed" countries and 2003 for "developing" ones. increasing production and consumption of wood products. A US industry organisation, the American Forest and Paper Association says wood consumption could increase by 3 to 4% worldwide if tariffs come down".

"The ATL reflects the global forestry industry's international trade agenda. And negotiations are likely to focus on the removal of non-tariff measures which may jeopardise environmental safeguards like eco-labelling, strong phytosanitary controls on imports of wood products that carry exotic pests - like the Asian gypsy moth - and pathogens, and regulations to promote local industries. Forest protection laws, labour and environmental regulations are viewed merely as obstacles for greater profit".

"Anything a good corporate lawyer can say is a "trade barrier" could be targetted - like export bans on wood products from endangered forests, bans on the export of unprocessed logs. For the timber transnationals, decreasing production costs is the name of the game, regardless of the environmental or social consequences - let alone the rights of Indigenous Peoples to their territories and resources".

"The timber transnationals seek to eliminate restrictions on where, when and how to log so production and profits increase. They want to open up world markets to forest products so more is sold and profits go up", he said.

Proposed new Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)-like provisions on investment at the WTO would also let overseas investors challenge any new government measures to protect forests or local forestry jobs.

"New Zealand already has one of the most open investment regimes in the world. According to recent Overseas Investment Commission statistics, 68% of all land sales to overseas investors between 1991-97 was for forestry purposes," he said.

"Neither the New Zealand government nor the Clinton Administration have conducted an environmental impact study on the proposed agreement, although the US Trade Representative's office and the Council on Environmental Quality have now agreed to conduct a very limited "economic and environmental analysis"".

"Weyerhaeuser and International Paper, two out of the four key US timber transnational corporations which sit on Clinton's trade advisory committee, and have greatly influenced the drafting of this new agreement, operate in New Zealand. We have no doubt that the forestry giants are playing a similar role in shaping New Zealand's position going into the WTO Ministerial while everyone else is deliberately being kept in the dark," said Mr Choudry.


For further comment, contact Aziz Choudry ph (03) 3662803; or (03) 3484763

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