WTO reforms must include animal welfare multilateral rules


WTO reforms must include animal welfare multilateral rules

2 March 2021
Eurogroup for Animals welcomes the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala as the new Director-General of the WTO, as well as the recent call by the EU to reform the WTO to better address sustainability challenges. The WTO and its Members should use this momentum to strengthen animal welfare measures under multilateral trade, as part of the efforts to support sustainable development.

On 1st March, Ms Ngozi Okonjo Iweala took office as the first woman and African national to serve as WTO director-general. Her appointment opens a new era for multilateral trade, following the stress on the international rules-based system, exacerbated by the blockage of the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism. The multilateral trading system must adapt to the challenges of our times by explicitly incorporating the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) high on its agenda, and, as Ms Iweala rightly highlighted in her opening statement, WTO members shouldaddress more broadly the nexus between trade and climate change” and “explore further ways in which trade can contribute to an improved climate” to meet the UN SDGs by 2030.

WTO Members should definitely seize this momentum to better address the impact of trade rules on sustainability related issues. As animal welfare is deeply connected to achieving the UN SDGs, better addressing the impact of trade rules on animal welfare can contribute to the objective expressed by Ms Iweala. A first step in the right direction would be to ensure that WTO members have the right to adapt trade rules in order to avoid the spread of intensive industrial farming, which, in addition to be intrinsically detrimental to animal welfare, has a very negative impact on climate, the environment, biodiversity loss, public health and peoples’ livelihoods. Here below are several ways this could be reflected in the WTO modernisation process:

  • The WTO membership could discuss the issue of product differentiation based on non-product related Process and Production Method (NPR-PPM), such as animal welfare. Considering that many challenges the planet is facing today - such as antimicrobial resistance, the spread of zoonoses, biodiversity loss or climate change - are related to how products are made, this debate has become of the utmost importance. Such discussions could also fit under the recent initiative launched by the EU and other countries on Trade and Environment.
  • It will be important, in the debate around agricultural subsidies, to clarify that subsidies aiming to improve animal welfare should be listed as Green Box subsidies, and therefore remain permitted. 
  • Similarly as with fisheries subsidies, the WTO could suggest negotiations to tackle subsidies supporting unsustainable farming practices
  • “Environmental Goods” should be understood as including goods that would assist in spreading agroecology and small-scale, non-industrial farming, as well as technology that is beneficial to animal welfare.

The preoccupation expressed by the new WTO Director-General has also been echoed in the annex of the recently published EU Trade policy review, which addresses the modernisation of the WTO. The EU proposal contains strong wording on sustainability, notably by affirming that WTO members should be able to address both issues related to economic recovery, development and unfair competition, as well as environmental and social sustainability. Addressing these issues, the EU proposal recognises, will be more in line with UN SDGs and it could “offer the sense of common purpose that the WTO has lacked in recent decades”. The text also indicates that the EU will “support an interpretation of WTO’s provisions that recognise the right of Members to provide effective responses to global environmental challenges (...) notably the protection of biodiversity”.

Eurogroup for Animals welcomes these words. The case law exists to support trade restrictions based on animal welfare related concerns and it is high time we use these possibilities to ensure trade does not further harm the animals, us and the planet, notably by fuelling the intensification of livestock production. We thus call on the EU to support our proposals in the debates that will surround the modernisation of the WTO in the coming years.