WTO outlines regulations on plastics

Regulations on plastics are being outlined for discussion at the next Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said its deputy director general, Alan Wolff.

WTO members have started to address the transboundary consequences of plastic pollution in their discussions in Geneva, with some of them seeking support for an initiative on plastics at the WTO Ministerial Conference that will take place on next year.

In a message to the Virtual Packaging Summit in India, Wolff noted that WTO Members have a wide range of trade measures in place to facilitate sustainable trade, from reuse and repair to remanufacturing, recycling and eco-design.

“When it comes to packaging, the discussions inevitably focus on plastic waste,” added Wolff.

Plastics, in some way, have become the reference material for the industry. According to him, plastics are versatile, durable and inexpensive; also, unfortunately, too often it degrades slowly, which means plastic waste and pollution.

The World Economic Forum estimates that more than 400 million tons of plastic are produced annually, of which only 14 to 18% is formally recycled.

“Of course there are alternatives available. In India, it is not uncommon to find packaging made from jute or natural fibers that can be both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly. Recycling is also a common practice, for example with paper bags made from old newspapers,” he said.


At the WTO, members have started to raise the cross-border implications of plastic pollution in the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE).

Measures taken to address plastic pollution and facilitate the global circular economy of these materials are being discussed.

Many countries have already introduced trade measures to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution. Between 2009 and 2018, WTO members notified 128 measures that affect the trade in plastics for environmental reasons, mainly under the TBT Agreement.

These included technical requirements related to waste management, import licensing schemes to control trade flows, and bans on single-use plastic items or shopping bags. 80% of these measures were notified by developing or least developed countries (LDCs).

Waste can create new economic opportunities and challenges. There is a wide range of trade measures that could be aimed at facilitating trade for the circular economy: from reuse and repair to remanufacturing, recycling and eco-design.

“This will require a change of approach by multiple stakeholders, including policy makers and the private sector, because trade and other economic activities have traditionally been conceived with a linear economy, rather than a circular one, in mind,” said Wolff. .

To date, 470 trade measures related to circular economy have been registered. Initiatives, such as the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA), could also contribute to the diffusion of technologies and alternatives.



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