‘I’m Mo Green!’

CANCUN, Mexico — “I’m Mo Green!” bellowed the casino owner, suggesting that his uninvited but insistent suitor Michael Corleone appreciate their relative stations in the scheme of Las Vegas, one of many oft imitated moments from the movie in The Godfather saga colloquially known to the Soprano clan as “One.”

With the same battle cry of being “Mo Green” in the late hours of the November 2001 World Trade Organization Ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, EU negotiators successfully held out for environmental promises in the trade talks under threat of abandoning future talks in the new “round” of discussions, and it looks as if they might be at it again.

The EU’s Doha gambit succeeded, cowing the U.S. Trade Representative and others to accede to considering such revolutionary proposals as granting primacy over WTO provisions to multilateral environmental agreements (MEA’s such as the Kyoto and Montreal Protocols, among others), and including a role for Secretariats of the various MEAs. Talks proceeded, but then collapsed. The reasons they ceased are obvious.

The latter demand is absurd on its face given the sort of individual appointed to most top multilateral environmental jobs–often at best a brother-in-law, and more typically a committed worrier, generally someone able to hear a promise of free lunch wealth transfer but not to spot their actual costs. This is typically an unpleasant contrast with the more credentialed and more serious individuals holding economic and trade posts.

Worse than working green bureaucrats into the trade mix, however, is that MEAs are often not-too-thinly disguised anti-growth pacts, and will conflict with pro-development trade deals early and often. Gutting a free trade pact by granting MEAs supremacy is not only wrong but theoretically perverse.

The forces of trumping growth with anti-growth dedicated Tuesday as “Sustainable Trade Day”, featuring Lamy and WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdias as the introductory speakers. STD, as we’ll call it, was accompanied by much lofty talk of including all potential interests in “sustainable development,” but in reality gathered like minded enviro-firsters to loudly complain about the WTO still not being the WEO.

Lamy asserted that linking trade and environment is “a fundamental aspect of trade policy” and, indeed, of allowing trade liberalization to continue. Leaving no doubt as to the inherent, attendant consequences as described, Lamy cited the Cartagena Protocol on Biodiversity as an ideal. Cartagena, for the blissfully uninitiated, formalizes what’s known as the Precautionary Principle of risk policy.

The Precautionary Principle of shifting the burden of proof of safety to the innovator, who must first prove something safe–the cell phone, airplane, etc.–before it is permitted widespread public adoption, would be disastrous if ever broadly formalized. Yet that is one of four green demands the EU and their pressure group brethren are making as part of these WTO talks. If they succeed –that is, if the U.S. and poor countries allow themselves to be bullied or bought into acquiescence –we can kiss the WTO as we know it goodbye.