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Cancun or bust

There were those who feared that the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last September would mark not two steps forward towards saving the earth, but three steps back. Green campaigners fought long and hard against the subordination of global environmental agreements – such as those on endangered species and toxic waste won at previous Earth Summits – to free-trade rules under the auspices of the World Trade Organization. This would effectively have allowed the gutting of multilateral environmental agreements that corporate interests deemed ‘barriers to trade’. So there were sighs of relief all round when international environmental law was apparently saved from the free-trade chainsaw by the removal of references to ‘WTO consistency’ in the Johannesburg declaration. But Victor Menotti, director of the International Forum on Globalization’s Environment Program, has some bad news. Take a closer look at the text. In fact the UN’s environmental regimes are committed to ‘support of the work plan agreed through the WTO’. That means that trade ministers – not environment ministers – will decide the fate of multilateral environment agreements at the next ministerial meeting of the WTO in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003. The secretariats of the environment agreements will be granted only observer status at the meeting as the hard-won treaties they administer are eviscerated. At that news, memories of the protests in Seattle at the 1999 ministerial meeting will surely resurface in the minds of campaigners. Victor is not the only one among them saying, ‘See you in Cancun!’