TRADE AND THE ENVIRONMENT: FINDING COMMON GROUND
Secretary of Commerce William M.
Woodrow Wilson Center
November 22, 1999
As you know I work across the street from the Ronald Reagan Building in the Herbert Hoover Building, which is a block and a half from the newly named Dwight Eisenhower executive office building. I don't want to get partisan, but frankly I'm happy there's at least one corner of the neighborhood named after Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat!
For the last eight months we have been working very hard to build American support for global free trade before the WTO begins a new round of talks. They begin just eight days from now in Seattle. In traveling around the country our trade education tour we focused on the economics of trade, and how much trade has done to make our economy stronger.
Despite the fact there isn't a true consensus yet and we have seen a lot of fear about trade among what I call the normal people, I absolutely believe we have made progress. A number of people support trade, and clearly want to keep the borders open. Many have questions, which we're trying to answer, especially through the business community. More and more companies are figuring out that their workers need to understand the connection between free trade and their jobs.
But the aspect of our dialogue with Americans that is probably the least understood is the connection between trade and the environment. And the environment is certainly where we expect to see some of the sharpest criticism in Seattle. The fact is, when you think about it, the environment is one of the first places we should be able to find common ground. In fact, it is the one thing we all have in common. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and eat the same fish.
I think we can all agree that sound regulation and a sound economy are the two keys to a better environment around the globe. While in this job, I have traveled to some 40 countries, many of them in the developing world. And the worst environmental conditions I have seen are in closed or struggling economies. They can't afford to buy cleaner technologies, or they don't listen to calls for cleaner water and air, a better environment.
I believe by building a more open trading system, we can help these nations -- and ourselves -- build a cleaner, more prosperous world. So I am delighted to announce that Lee Hamilton and the Woodrow Wilson Center have agreed to make this the first in a series of meetings over the next year on trade and the environment. The timing could not be better, nor the need greater. We truly need your input as we go forward.
I ask that you focus on identifying critical issues that can be targeted for near-term solutions, especially as they relate to the Commerce Department. And the link, between trade and the environment, will not go away -- regardless of who replaces me in the Gore Administration or, for that matter, whoever is in the White House. So I ask that you think longer term. Be prepared to advise the next Commerce Secretary. And think beyond the new WTO round.
I have a unique position in all this. I am the voice for business and competition in the Administration. And I am responsible for a big part of the environment. You may not know this, but the largest agency at Commerce is NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], which manages fisheries, endangered species, and coastal eco-systems. So, I know the pressures that growth can put on the environment, and the need to protect places like our National Marine Sanctuaries. But I also know the needs of the business community.
That is what the Administration's trade and environment policy is all about, which Vice President Gore announced last week. And that is what we want to see come from President Clinton's recent executive order requiring environmental impact reviews of every major new trade agreement. And we want them during negotiations, not after the fact.
I know some in the business community may be uneasy about this. And I want to make sure these reviews are done right and that all voices are heard -- notwithstanding the technical challenges that are involved.
Let me say at Commerce I insist on close cooperation between NOAA and our trade people in ITA [International Trade Administration]. To be honest, there was some grumbling about this, because of competing interests. But I can tell you we now have a very effective approach, where all concerns are voiced and addressed before there is a crisis.
Take for example our recent agreement with 42 nations to build back Atlantic tuna and swordfish populations. We include strong enforcement provisions, and we believe it's WTO-compliant.
You in the private sector should do the same. Life is a two-way street. I believe environmental lawyers need to think more like trade lawyers, and trade lawyers need to think more like environmental lawyers. And I can say this with authority because I am a lawyer!
Let me briefly outline what Commerce brings to the table at the WTO and beyond. First, we are leading the charge on lowering trade barriers that also pay environmental dividends. The top issue is ending fish subsidies that lead to too many boats, chasing too few fish. This, plus our efforts on international agreements, will help protect the world environment.
And look at how we're doing it. Environmental agreements, in this case, get at the heart of the problem: too many fish are being caught. The WTO works to make the job easier by reducing harmful subsidies.
And we're moving on other fronts. We want the WTO to reduce tariffs on environmental and clean energy products, which would make them cheaper and more widely available. Since America makes some of the best of this technology in the world, I have asked my staff to develop an aggressive program to increase our exports of these products. I believe we can at least double them to $18 billion [$18,000 million], in five years.
Who in America would oppose such a plan? It would mean more jobs at home and a cleaner environment around the world.
One final point on WTO. I know that many of you are concerned that the WTO can over-ride international environmental agreements. And worse yet, that they can override U.S. law. Both the President and the Vice President have been very clear on this one. Nations have the right to set environmental standards, based on sound science, at the levels they believe are necessary -- even if these are higher than international standards. This principle is absolutely consistent with WTO rules.
Second, at Commerce, we will be looking for new partnerships that expand trade and protect the environment. Let me use forestry management as an example. Obviously, we should be working to develop a global forestry industry that is sustainable in the long run. This means we must remove distorting tariffs -- which we have proposed in the WTO. It also means developing better tools to monitor the health of forests. And we believe one way to achieve this is by a marriage of the forest products, and space industries.
Today I am calling on them to begin working on that partnership. I hope it will develop new management tools that use satellite remote sensing to improve forest conservation. At the heart of this is doing a better job of sharing and using these satellite images around the globe. We will be the catalyst for opening the dialogue. And we have scientific and technical talent that can help. You may not know this, but Commerce runs one of the largest satellite fleets in the world!
So, I hope this effort will help develop methods to verify claims about sustainable forestry practices. And I hope it ultimately raises global standards for protecting the environment.
Before closing, let me make a final point. We cannot achieve any of these goals -- despite the commitment of this Administration -- without your help. No way, no how. The fact is, we need your patience, and your participation. Obviously, this is a very new issue.
The NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] agreement with Mexico and Canada was the first time environmental issues were ever a significant factor in a trade deal. Contrast that with labor standards, which first became a trade issue a century ago, when the McKinley Tariff authorized the government to prohibit imports made by forced labor. And it was Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations that launched the International Labor Organization.
So be patient. Don't get frustrated. And above all else, be a constructive player. We need all of you to participate in the process. We cannot advance the ball, we cannot achieve consensus unless all the players are in the game. I look forward to our dialog in the months ahead.
And as we move forward, I believe we should be guided by the wisdom of Teddy Roosevelt, who created the Commerce Department at the turn of the century. He believed very strongly that America could preserve its natural resources, while creating a very competitive economy at home and abroad.
And in these last weeks of the 20th century, we have a President who wants to lead our country and the entire world into more trade in the 21st century. I hope every American is with him, and understands that trading globally, means prospering locally. Thank you very much.