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from SchNEWS 206, 26 March 1999

"The agreement reflects an economic agenda which prioritises unsustainable corporate profit-making over the maintenance of healthy ecosystems. "
- Friends Of The Earth

What would your solution be if you were told that an area larger than Mexico had been deforested between 1980 and 1995? More forest protection? Don't be daft. Last week negotiations took place in Geneva at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to kick off a wood trade free-for-all which would effectively trash what's left of the world's forests.

So who is behind all this? Surprise, surprise, it's the good 'ole apple pie United States, strongly supported by their paper and wood product industries! They're pushing for a WTO agreement, which could strip the world's remaining natural forests of any existing protection, while boosting consumption of forest products and increasing logging. SchNEWS wasn't surprised to hear the US Trade Representative at the W.T.O talks in Geneva, Charlene Barshefsky, used to be a lobbyist for the Canadian Timber Industry.


This little story (and readers might be going all deja vu about these trade agreements) started in 1995 when negotiations between GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum) failed, and the WTO was asked to join a forest products free trade agreement. A quick look at deforestation rates in APEC countries is enough to raise a few concerned eyebrows between 1990 and 1995 the annual deforestation rate of APEC countries was more than twice the world average. Doesn't really inspire confidence eh?

Peru, Russia and Vietnam joined APEC in 1998 worrying as Russia has the most remaining frontier forests of all the world's countries; Peru the fourth most; meanwhile, Vietnam's frontier forests are the third most threatened in the world.

The Forest Industry reckons that protection laws reduce their profits, this is reason enough for them to push the WTO to pass new laws removing such petty obstacles to their progress. WTO have been described as having 'uniquely powerful tools' and are obviously not afraid to use them! The Director General said "We are writing the constitution of a single global economy ".


Minor inconveniences that may arise from this attitude include the probable importation of destructive pests on wood products.

One such pest is the Asia long-horned beetle which has killed thousands of trees across the United States since it was imported on untreated logs and packaging material.

Another probable bummer is that the removal of tariffs will mean no distinction between wood products that are harvested by sustainable methods and the logging of old-growth and endangered trees. Basically, Joe public will have no way of knowing whether they are buying the last remaining rainforest or not.

As per usual the worlds press are falling over themselves to tell us about this charming little agreement- and it could be law by November when the WTO meet in Seattle. So what can we do about it?As the WTO obviously consider our world's forests a resource to be plundered, we can only suggest a spot of direct action-go and plant some trees!


  • Trees For Life, The Park, Findhorn Bay, Forres IV36 OTZ, Scotland. Tel:01309 691292
  • For info. on sustainable living, contact the Permaculture Assoc. BCM Permaculture Association, London, WC1N 3XX. Tel: 01654 712188 website

If you are interested in fighting against the WTO agreement, contact . This woman has all the information ammunition you will need!

Recommended reading: "Profit Over People " by Noam Chomsky.

  • Every hour, at least 4,500 acres of tropical forests fall to chain saws, machetes, flames or bulldozers, and another four plant or animal species become extinct.
  • Half the world's original forest is gone.
  • Only 22% remains as undisturbed 'primary' forest.
  • Less than 10% of temperate forests remain.
  • Half the world's tropical forests have been cleared.
  • Chile's native forests-one third of the world's remaining temperate rain forests-will be completely deforested in just 20 years if current practices continue.
  • At least 200 million hectares of forest were lost between 1980 and 1995 - an area larger than Mexico says the 1997 United Nations Food and Agriculture's State of the World's Forests report.


  • To prevent global warming
  • To stabilise climate change
  • To ensure a steady source of clean water
  • To prevent floods and serve as windbreaks (stops soil erosion and desertification)
  • As a source of fuel, food, medicine, beauty and recreation

This story courtesy of the ever excellent SchNEWS. Support them by buying their year books, taking out a subscription, or donating some cash. See more here.
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