INC Technical Note: World Trade Organization Rules and Key Elements for Consideration in the Context of a Treaty to End Plastic Pollution

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Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), IUCN, WCN
Regional project
Country project
Document type
Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution - Technical Resource for Pacific Island Courtiers
Ahead of the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (plastics treaty), there are clear indications that trade restrictions1 and requirements are to be part of the discussions, as indicated by many pre-INC2 State submissions, including non-party trade provisions (see CIEL’s brief on non-party trade provisions).2

Concurrently, some States have raised the question of compatibility between possible provisions of the future plastics treaty and World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.3 Since the inception of the WTO, a number of principles have become part of the core of international trade law under its jurisdiction. Critical elements of these rules include: (i) the non-discrimination principle;4 (ii) the most-favored-nation (MFN) principle5 and (iii) the national treatment principle.6 However, those principles do not preclude or impede States from prohibiting, restricting, or conditioning trade within the plastics treaty. Many multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) have included trade and traderelated provisions,7 including trade restrictions, and none have triggered WTO disputes.8 In fact, MEAs that contain trade provisions harmonize the approach to an environmental problem, avoiding legal fragmentation and plausible WTO challenges.

This brief examines the question of consistency or compatibility of the incoming plastics treaty with WTO rules, with the understanding that the treaty negotiation process is still very much ongoing. It also provides key recommendations for future framing of the plastic treaty’s terms to address the essential interlinkages between plastic pollution and international trade in advance of INC-2.

  • WTO-consistency_compatibility-with-Plastics-Treaty_FINAL-TEXT_formatted-v1.pdf