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This story was first published in the August 2019 Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review (ELPAR) issue of ELR News & Analysis.


Our planet is hurtling toward dramatic and devastating impacts from climate change caused in large part by our reliance on fossil fuels. Meanwhile, liberalized trading rules have promoted a global economy heavily reliant on trade, which itself increases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The climate impact of trade is manifested directly through reliance on global supply chains and as food and finished goods are shipped halfway around the world to consumers; and indirectly as trade rules are used to attack domestic policies that support fossil fuel alternatives while giving a free pass to subsidies that increase GHG emissions.1 One consequence well underway is ocean warming and acidification leading to significant declines in fish stocks that are already threatened by overfishing.2 There is also a direct link between fisheries subsidies and GHG emissions: by one estimate, 22 percent of these subsidies go to the purchase of fuel for fishing vessels and to lower the costs of fuel-dependent ships.3 With recent comprehensive United Nations assessments4 and U.S. government data5 concluding that destructive climate changes are well advanced, it is clear we must effectively tackle trade-related contributions to GHG emissions before it is too late.

Prof. Timothy Meyer of Vanderbilt University Law School has contributed to our knowledge about the relationship between trade policy and both climate change and fishing sustainability in his article, “Free Trade, Fair Trade, and Selective Enforcement”6 by providing a comprehensive inventory of World Trade Organization-related subsidy challenges and investigations related to energy, fishing, and aquaculture and exploring the social costs of these challenges. Meyer argues that the selective enforcement of WTO subsidy prohibitions against renewable energy and aquaculture, but not against fossil fuel and wild fishing, distort trade markets to the detriment of the environment, by promoting environmentally unsustainable practices and slowing development of competitive more environmentally- friendly products. He offers as a solution centralized WTO investigation and enforcement authority to insure even-handed treatment of environmental products.

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This article is republished with permission from the Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120, Copyright © 2019.

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