World Trade Organization (WTO)

Given the impact many World Trade Organization (WTO) decisions have on people’s health and the environment, CIEL has long advocated for more transparent mechanisms for WTO dispute proceedings. Primarily through sign-on letters supported by a multitude of other NGOs, CIEL has helped to shed light on a number of WTO actions that have imperiled human and environmental rights. Today, we remain dedicated to monitoring to ensure that the WTO continues to operate in accordance to international law.

A sign-on letter CIEL helped to orchestrate in 2002 urged the WTO to reject ‘exclusive’ mini-ministerial and Green Room meetings where only a select group of WTO Members was invited to discuss the WTO agenda behind closed doors. The process, CIEL argued, violated the spirit of international cooperation and undermined democratic principles, which is of particular concern for an international institution that creates legally binding and enforceable agreements for 145 governments worldwide.

September 2005 marked the first time that the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) opened their Panel proceedings to the public by broadcasting it on closed-circuit television. CIEL has long advocated for transparency in these proceedings, and we congratulated the parties to the dispute, the Panel, and the WTO Secretariat for successfully taking this step. Still, broadcast TV is limited: few individuals outside Geneva could view the proceedings, and those in developing countries might not have the resources to travel to Geneva to watch the broadcast. To remedy this, CIEL suggested that proceedings be webcast in the future. In 2006, CIEL contributed to a letter that requested making webcasting an official procedure in WTO dispute hearings. Today, this webcasting is not official, but it is also not uncommon.

Over the years, CIEL has also intervened in specific cases. Examples include CIEL’s publications on fair fishery access rights in 2007 and, more recently, CIEL’s harsh criticism of the WTO Panel’s approach in the EC-Biotech case, which investigated the lawful treatment of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) trade. By and large, since GMOs directly impact human and environmental health, CIEL maintained that information on the various chemicals of which they are comprised must be made available to consumers. More detailed information on CIEL’s commitment to maintaining WTO transparency can be found via the links below.