South and Southeast Asia Forum: Trade and Environment

At this meeting, trade negotiators from South and Southeast Asia exchanged views on the latest developments under three ongoing trade and environment initiatives at the WTO: the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD), the Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Sustainable Plastics Trade (IDP), and Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform (FFSR).

Discussions started with a historical perspective of WTO’s agenda on environmental issues, recalling that the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO acknowledges the role of trade and environment in the multilateral trading system, and that the Doha Development Agenda also mandates multilateral negotiations on several trade and environment issues. The WTO offers an important supporting framework for sustainable development and environment and contributes to environmental conservation and preservation through specialised bodies, committees and agreements. The creation of the Committee on Trade and Environment provided a forum for WTO members to discuss trade and environment related matters.

Ongoing plurilateral environmental initiatives being discussed at the WTO were then reviewed, namely:

  • Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structures Discussions (TESSD), which were launched to promote sustainable environment and it covers areas on circular economy, climate change, fossil fuel subsides reform, plastic pollution, sustainable agriculture and trade in environmental goods and services. Participants were informed that TESSD have recently decided on the 2022 workplan, with the planned creation of four sub-groups to have more focussed discussions on: (i) trade related climate measures; (ii) environmental goods and services; (iii) circular economy-circularity; and (iv) subsidies.
  • Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Sustainable Trade (IDP), which aims to promote environmentally -sustainable trade in plastics and reduce plastic pollution
  • Fossil Fuel Subsidies’ Reform, which seeks to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption and transition towards a green sustainable economy.


It was emphasised that the 3 initiatives should support technical assistance and capacity building to developing and least developed countries, in addition to taking into account the needs of developing countries. Looking ahead, WTO members may support collaboration and harmonisation on trade and environment issues through the sharing of experiences and best practices.

Participants recalled the linkages between environment and agricultural trade, with some countries using sustainable development and environmental protection as a way to protect their own market (i.e. Art 20 of GATT). Although it is a reality that climate change is harming the production in least developed and developing countries; the other issue lies in market access with the role of environmental standards that can negatively affect market access for those countries. A request was made to look at the actual impact of environment on production of and market access for the agricultural products of developing and least-developed countries.