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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Australia's report to the UNCSD - 1996

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 6422 4868 0

International cooperation

Chapter 2 of Agenda 21

Australia is committed to the pursuit of sustainable development, both nationally and internationally, through the implementation of policies which effectively integrate economic and environmental considerations. Implicit in this commitment is the belief that development must proceed on a sustainable basis if the well-being of the world's population is to improve and if the environment is to be protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations.

Consistent with the philosophy underlying Agenda 21, Australia recognises that, if global progress towards sustainable development is to be achieved, economic and environment policies implemented at national and international level must be mutually supportive.

Non-government Organisation Views on the Trade Liberalisation Debate

Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (the Earth Summit), environment and overseas aid non-government organisations (NGOs) in Australia have given a high priority to examining the environmental, labour and human rights impacts of trade liberalisation.

Through Government - NGO consultative arrangements, such as the NGO Forum on International Environment Issues and the Fair Trade Forum, a number of these NGOs have expressed the view that international, regional and national environmental and social standards could be eroded by free trade agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

There is also concern that the abolition of agricultural subsidies, whilst benefiting Australian farmers, will increase poverty, especially in low-income food importing countries, through increased prices and reduced food security.

Australian environment and overseas aid NGOs are particularly concerned that the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, of which Australia is a member, is failing to incorporate adequate environmental protection, labour and human rights standards and concerns in institutional arrangements promoting trade liberalisation.

Adopted in 1992, Australia's National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD), acknowledges the national and international dimensions of sustainable development, particularly the important nexus between international trade and its impact on the environment. At a national level, the NSESD defines the challenge as being 'to provide a government policy framework which supports the efficient and environmentally responsible development of the nation's resources'. At an international level, the NSESD outlines the challenge as being 'to pursue international agreement on the incorporation of full environmental costs associated with production and use; and to maximise the ecologically sustainable development benefit of trade liberalisation'.

The Australian Government has implemented a range of strategies with a view to meeting these two challenges.

Domestically, the Government is committed to microeconomic reform in order to enhance Australia's international competitiveness and to raise living standards through the more efficient allocation and use of Australia's resources. A key objective of these reforms is to align resource prices with the real costs of their production and consumption, including environmental costs.

To date microeconomic reform has sought to internationalise the Australian economy through: the removal of protectionist barriers and other domestic market distortions; the adoption of a number of measures to improve productivity and efficiency; the introduction of effective competition policies; and the development of labour training and assistance programs to complement structural adjustment. Specific sectoral reforms have been introduced in a number of industries including in the aviation, telecommunications, electricity, gas, water, land transport and agricultural sectors. These reforms have led to increased competitiveness of these sectors and the more efficient utilisation of the country's wide range of resources.

In the context of international trade cooperation, Australia has argued that ecologically sustainable development is best promoted by an open, equitable, non-discriminatory and stable multilateral trading environment which distributes the world's resources in the most efficient manner possible. To this end, Australia has actively pursued a program of trade liberalisation, both unilaterally, and through international forums such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and APEC. Australia has also pursued the integration of trade and environment issues in the CSD and other international forums including the WTO, APEC, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). A major focus of this activity has been the agricultural trade sector, where Australia, along with the Cairns Group members, has argued for the removal of trade restrictive and distorting policies which lead directly to the over-exploitation and degradation of the environment.

In the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment, Australia supported the view that, if the multilateral trading system is to deliver its promise of improvements in social welfare, it must be supported by complementary environmental policies. Australia is effectively implementing the OECD procedural guidelines on integrating trade and environment policies and is an active participant in the OECD Joint Session of Trade and Environment Experts, which is currently analysing a range of issues associated with the trade and environment interface. In APEC, Australia has promoted the integration of environmental issues into ongoing programme activities. At the third session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), Australia presented with other Cairns Group countries, a paper on the benefits for the environment of trade liberalisation in the agricultural sector.

Australia recognises that trade liberalisation will not, of itself, be sufficient for achieving sustainable development on a global scale, unless complemented by sound environmental policies. Australia also acknowledges that there is little understanding of the emerging nature of linkages between trade and environment issues. As such, Australia has been supportive of international action aimed at assessing the environmental effects of trade policies. Australia rates as a priority the need to build institutional capacity in the area of trade and environmental assessment. To this end, Australia supported the recommendations of the third session of the CSD, calling for international fora to undertake further work in this area.

Recognising the importance of obtaining more empirical data, Australia also supported the recommendations of the CSD calling for further examination of the relationship between a range of environment and trade measures; the role of changing production and consumption patterns; the valuation of environmental externalities; the effect of trade provisions in multilateral environment agreements; the effect of eco-labelling and packaging and recycling requirements; and the nature and effect of process standards and regulations. Australia has also highlighted the importance of achieving complementarity, transparency and accountability among the different international organisations working in these areas.

The philosophy of ecologically sustainable development underpins the Australian development cooperation program. In the 1995-96 fiscal year, Australia will provide over $1.56 billion in official overseas development aid. All aid activities are aimed at promoting sustainable development in developing countries through, among other measures, capacity building and the efficient mobilisation of domestic resources. A range of aid activities directly targets the environment. Aid program expenditure on environment-related activities increased from an estimated $120 million in 1992 to over $160 million in 1994, reflecting the importance Australia places on the growing and urgent environmental needs in developing countries. Further details of environment-related activities in Australia's aid program are provided in the chapter of this report titled 'Finance'.