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Court Orders U.S. Trade Representative to Include Environmentalists on WTO Advisory Committees

A federal judge ordered the US Trade Representative, Charlene Barshefsky, to name at least one representative from the environmental community to each of two panels that advise her on negotiating strategy and other matters involving international trade in wood products and paper products.
November 9, 1999
Seattle, WA —

A federal district court judge has ordered the United States Trade Representative, Charlene Barshefsky, to name at least one representative from the environmental community to each of two panels that advise her on negotiating strategy and other matters involving international trade in wood products and paper products.

By limiting membership to industry officials, the court ruled, the Trade Representative was violating the Federal Advisory Council Act. The law requires that the advisory panels represent a "fair balance" of viewpoints. The advisory committees at issue are two of more than two dozen that advise the U.S. government on international trade.

Judge Barbara Rothstein found that the paper and wood panels are anything but balanced:

"The highly charged nature and the stakes at issue in the free trade-environment debate over timber sales are well documented. Matters affecting the wood and paper products sector are dramatically and inextricably intertwined with the environmental health and protection of this nation...The forest ISACs [product Industry Sector Advisory Committees] offer advice on diverse and far-reaching issues that affect others, especially those who promote forest conservation. The composition of the forest product ISACs, thus, violates FACA's requirement to be fairly balanced in terms of viewpoints to be represented."

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Northwestern Ecosystem Alliance, the Pacific Environment and Resources Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Buckeye Forest Council, and the International Forum on Globalization. The United States is actively encouraging World Trade Organization member nations meeting in Seattle in late November to relax or eliminate all tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in wood products. This proposal is staunchly opposed by environmental groups in the absence of environmental safeguards.

Environmentalists hailed the court's ruling. "Finally, a long-existing wrong is slowly being righted," said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the organizations. "It is both unfair and illegal to load up these panels with industry representatives and not allow a single representative of the environment to participate."

"This ruling vindicates our belief in democratic decision-making," said Paige Fischer, Director of the Forests and Trade Campaign at Pacific Environment and Resources Center. "Now we renew our call on the U.S. Government to halt negotiations of the Global Free Logging Agreement at the WTO until forest conservationists have a seat at the table with big business."

"This ruling exposes the hypocrisy of Clinton administration trade policy. The President says that he wants the WTO to become more democratic, yet here at home the government has shut the public out of the crucial trade advisory committees," said Dan Seligman, Director of Sierra Club's Responsible Trade campaign. "If the US Trade Representative is going to make global environmental policy, then the public, not just private industry, must sit at the table."

The next meeting of the paper committee is 11/16; the wood committee meets 12/8.

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New Report – "Our Forests at Risk: The World Trade Organization's Threat to Forest Protection" is available online here.

BACKGROUND

Trade Agreements and the Environment

Trade agreements are negotiated and implemented amidst tremendous secrecy with little opportunity for public oversight or input. No environmental impact statements are prepared on trade agreements and the legislative process is often cut short and truncated.

The United States Trade Representative obtains some input through a series of industry advisory committees. It has over two dozen advisory committees that it consults on a regular basis. It provides these committees secret information that is not available to the public, such as the proposals on the table in negotiations and the U.S. bargaining strategies.

The Federal Advisory Committee Act

The Federal Advisory Committee Act requires that advisory committees be fairly balanced in terms of the views represented. This statute is designed to make the federal government accountable and fair when it establishes and uses advisory committees.

WTO Advisory Committee Makeup - History

In the early 1990s, as many as 800 industry executives sat on these committees and not one environmental representative. In response to public outrage at this preferred industry access to the trade negotiators, the U.S. Trade Representative added a few environmental representatives to a handful of the advisory committees.

The U.S. Trade Representative has about two dozen industry sector advisory committees that have never had any environmental representation. These committees are divided by industry, such as wood products, paper, chemicals, and energy.

The lawsuit challenged the two industry advisory committees: one on lumber and wood products, and the other on paper products. These committees have obtained inside information and provided their views to Administration officials on a regular basis.

1. They applauded entry into the World Trade Organization, which the environmental community opposed.

2. They objected to a provision in the WTO Agreements that allows countries to subsidize some of the costs of complying with new environmental regulations.

3. They have consistently and aggressively pushed for the complete elimination of tariffs on forest products – something the environmental community opposes in the absence of environmental safeguards.

4. They have addressed border safeguards to prevent the entry and spread of insects from imports of untreated wood products and packaging materials; the environmental community has actively sought to strengthen those restrictions.

5. They have also provided advice on global warming negotiations, a packaging initiative that would reduce demand for wood and paper products, United Nations forest negotiations, the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment, and expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

6. In the near term, they will continue to provide advice on border safeguards to prevent the spread of invasive pests and will address eco-labeling.

A Stacked Deck

The wood and lumber product committee members are:

Ernest T. "Bill" Altman, President

Hardwood Plywood Mfrs. Assn.

Alan Campbell, President

National Wood Window and Door Association

Edward G. Elias, Managing Director, Europe

American Plywood Association

Larry R. Frye, Executive Director

Fine Hardwood Veneer Assn.

John A. Grunwald, President & CEO

David R. Webb Company, Inc.

Edward "Buzz" Heidt, President

The Penrod Company

Daniel Kearin, Business Lead

Weyerhaeuser Company

Karl W. Lindberg, President

Southern Forest Products Assn.

Richard Margosian, President

Composite Panel Association

Burton J. Nelson, Managing Director,

International Jeld-Wen, Inc.

R. Gail Overgard, Vice President, Operations

States Industries, Inc.

Thomas D. Searles, Executive Vice President

American Lumber Standards Committee

Charles R. Titus, Executive Vice President

National Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturing Assn.

Elizabeth Ward, Executive Director, Wood Products International

American Forest and Paper Association

Lyn Marie Withey, Director, Federal Corporate Affairs

International Paper Company

The paper product committee members are:

Michael G. Brummer, Executive Vice President

McGrann Paper Corporation

Ronald Budzik, Vice President for Government Affairs

Mead Corporation

Benjamin Cooper, Sr. Vice President, Government Affairs

Printing Industries of America, Inc.

Frank Darling, Vice President-Sales, Comm. Papers

Fort James Corporation

Charles Johnson, Jr., Vice President

Westvaco Worldwide

Thomas Lambrix, Vice President, Communications & Public Affairs

Union Camp Corporation

Michael Onustock, Executive Vice President, Pulp & Fine Paper

Marketing, Williamette Industries

David Paterson, Vice President, Market Pulp

Georgia-Pacific Corporation

Maureen Smith, International Vice President

American Forest and Paper Association

Ben Sung, Vice President

Han Chuan (U.S.A.) Corporation


The Seattle Round November 29 – December 3, 1999

The World Trade Organization will hold a mininsterial meeting in Seattle beginning November 29, 1999. The Clinton Administration has been trying to negotiate an agreement to eliminate tariffs in the forestry sector before the ministerial. At the ministerial, the WTO plans to launch a new round of negotiations to liberalize trade, including many initiatives that could affect the forestry sector. The environmental community is calling for a complete assessment of the environmental impacts of the WTO and necessary reforms to protect environmental standards before any further WTO expansion.

Contacts

Patti Goldman, (Earthjustice, Seattle) 206-343-7340,
Martin Wagner (Earthjustice, San Francisco) 415-627-6700
Dan Seligman (Sierra Club) 202-675-2387
Paige Fischer (PERC) 510-251-8800 ext. 305
Victor Menotti (IFG) 415-771-3394

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.