NZ Trade Unions criticise greenwash trade proposal

June 22, 2020: New Zealand with Costa Rica, Fiji, Iceland and Norway launched a new initiative - the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS) – on September 25, 2019, on the fringe of the United Nations General Assembly Leaders Meeting in New York. The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that their objective was to use trade policy to reduce subsidies for fossil fuels, in order to help achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5oC.

They calculate that global subsidies for fossil fuel use are over US$500 billion per year.

However, fossil fuel subsidies are only one of three key targets in the proposed negotiations, which are:

  • Elimination of tariffs on environmental goods and new commitments on environmental services
  • Disciplines to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies
  • The development of guidelines for voluntary eco-labelling programmes and associated mechanisms to encourage their promotion and application.

The 27 trade union members of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi criticised the process because negotiations actually started prior to public consultation, and do not involve most of the164 members of the World Trade Organisation. They are also critical of the content of the proposed ACCTS.

The unions argued that the proposal to cut tariffs on environmental goods and to make “new commitments” on environmental services had already been exhausted in the WTO because it would enhance market domination by European and US corporations at the expense of local development of environmental goods and services. By taking this issue to a small group of countries outside the WTO, the New Zealand government is exposing sensitive services to privatisation and overseas control, and undermining the WTO, the unions said.

The NZCTU posed the “just transition” framework against the “cut fuel subsidies to consumers” policy which hurts low income families in developing countries and has provoked widespread protests.

While eco-labelling could be positive, the unions said, while ever labelling is seen as a “barrier to trade” these are unlikely to be effective in alerting consumers to the environmental cost of products.

The NZCTU said a more effective approach on trade and the environment would be to empower nations to impose border charges on products from countries which do not commit to the Paris Climate Agreement and other international environmental standards.