Toward a Transatlantic Dialogue on Trade and the Environment

A Comparison of Approaches to Environmental Impact Assessments of Trade Agreements in the United States and EU

By
Sigmar Gabriel & John Kerry
Toward a Transatlantic Dialogue on Trade and the Environment : A Comparison of Approaches to Environmental Impact Assessments of Trade Agreements in the United States and EU - Lisa Alf, Claudia Assmann, Marianne Bauer and Jenny Weinkopf

Abstract

Environmental impact assessments of trade agreements have gained prominence since the 1990s as tools to identify environmental effects resulting from trade liberalization. The European Union and the United States have taken similar, but different, approaches to developing assessment methods: Sustainability Impact Assessments (SIAs) in the EU and Environmental Reviews (ERs) in the United States. Given that knowledge on both the EU and the U.S. side about what the other is doing in this regard is fairly limited, we seek to provide a basis for a more informed and in-depth discussion of the features, experiences, and potential advantages or disadvantages of the two approaches. This article is based on a comprehensive report on the topic, in which we discuss the underlying legal guidelines of trade impact assessments and examine two case studies on each side—for the EU, the agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council and Ukraine, and for the United States, the Free Trade Agreement with Chile and CAFTA-DR.

Introduction: Environmental Impact Assessments of Trade Agreements

The notion that trade can have a significant impact on the environment is a relatively new one, ranging from direct impacts like shifts in polluting production and increased CO2 emissions from transport, to more indirect effects from shifts in consumption patterns and changes in environmental regulation. Since the 1990s, interest in impact assessments as a tool to assess the effects of trade agreements on the environment and sustainable development has grown strongly: In 1993, the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recommended that governments “examine or review trade and environmental policies and agreements with potentially significant effects on other policy areas early in their development to assess the implications for the other policy area and to identify alternative policy options for addressing concerns.”1 The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha Ministerial Declaration of 2001 encouraged that “expertise and experience be shared with members wishing to perform environmental reviews at the national level.”2 The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation in 2002 encouraged countries to include efforts for the environment in their trade policies.

Both the United States and the European Union introduced forms of environmental impact assessments into their trade negotiations in the 1990s: Sustainability Impact Assessments (SIAs) in the European Union and Environmental Reviews (ERs) in the United States. While high-level political EU-U.S. meetings have touched on environmental impact assessments and declared interest in the issue, an in-depth dialogue and a comparison of corresponding practices have not proceeded yet. The “Assessment Guidelines on the Analysis of Impacts on International Trade and Investment” by the Transatlantic Economic Council—the only joint document subsequently published—shows that impact assessments regarding the effects of other legislative proposals on trade and investment have been discussed, but not the impacts of trade on the environment.3 As far as currently available information suggests, and as interview partners confirmed, SIAs and ERs have not yet been subject to transatlantic consultations.

Understanding the different approaches, however, is important in order to identify best practices in mitigating negative effects arising from trade liberalization. Thus, we seek to lay out the features of the United States’ and the EU’s approaches to environmental impact assessments of trade agreements, and to discuss and critically compare them. This comparative assessment can benefit the discussion of U.S.-EU economic relations, especially in light of increased public interest in how trade and economic growth have an impact on the environment, in how sustainability considerations can be balanced with other policy goals, and in how far the assessments have fostered the consideration of environmental issues in both parties’ trade relationships.

Our analysis is based on the respective EU and U.S. guidelines for conducting environmental impact assessments of trade agreements, assessment studies, texts of trade agreements, and public comments by non-governmental groups. In addition to these primary documents, we conducted fifteen interviews with policymakers involved in carrying out impact assessments, negotiating trade agreements, and implementing sustainable development capacity building programs in partner countries, as well as with civil society representatives who hold critical opinions on the policies and processes. Institutions with which we conducted interviews include the EU Commission’s Directorate Generals (DGs) Trade and Environment, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of State.4

We first present and discuss the most important findings of our research, shedding light on which particular approaches were chosen and their implications. We also seek to analyze the extent to which the results of environmental impact assessments find their way into negotiation objectives, the text of the actual trade agreement, and mitigation measures. Finally, we give a brief outlook on the value of a transatlantic dialogue about experiences in assessing trade agreements’ impact on the environment in the EU and the United States.

Comparative Assessment of U.S. and EU Approaches

In the following, we lay out how the EU and U.S. approaches have developed over time and analyze the most important differences between them regarding the scope of impacts assessed, the geographic coverage and length of studies, the responsibilities for conducting impact assessments, the methodologies applied, and the level of public involvement.

Characteristics and Trade-Offs of Approachces to Environmental Impact Assessments of Trade Agreements in the EU and United States

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW AND DEVELOPMENTS

The introduction of environmental impact assessment methods has to be seen against the background of the WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle in 1999, when environmental groups harshly criticized trade policy. The introduction of Sustainability Impact Assessments and Environmental Reviews was a reaction to claims that trade liberalization can have negative effects on the environment, and aimed to make trade negotiations more transparent, as well as to involve critics in evaluating environmental effects.

In the EU, member states had agreed they would pursue the objective of sustainable development and integrate environmental considerations in all other policy areas in the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997. The European Commission decided in 1999 to integrate sustainable development into trade negotiations by developing Trade Sustainability Impact Assessments (SIAs). Initially, the methodology of Trade SIAs was supposed to be used in assessing the impacts of the Doha Round negotiations, but has been applied to all major regional and bilateral trade negotiations ever since.5 Several political statements mentioned Trade SIAs, but none of these provides a binding legal basis or an obligation for the Commission to conduct SIAs. However, SIAs of trade agreements have become established policy tools.6

The 2006 “Global Europe” Communication reinforced the importance of SIAs as a tool to assess the impacts of trade liberalization, stating that new Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) “could include incorporating new cooperative provisions in areas relating to labor standards and environmental protection.”7 Inside the European Commission, the Communication is perceived as proclaiming a “new generation” of FTAs that include a chapter on sustainable development.8

In the United States, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 is widely perceived as an important precedent for identifying environmental impacts of trade liberalization. The U.S. administration saw itself under fierce pressure from environmental groups and public opinion, both of which feared negative effects of trade liberalization and globalization on the environment. Consequently, environmental concerns were made subject to an assessment of expected effects and a side agreement to NAFTA. This ad hoc process of environmental reviews applied during the NAFTA negotiations was formalized with the Presidential Executive Order 13,141 of 1999.9 The Order was published along with a “Declaration on Environmental Trade Policy” just before the beginning of the WTO negotiations in Seattle.10 Implementation guidelines followed in December 2000, extending and supplementing the provisions made in Executive Order 13,141.11

The Trade Act of 2002,12 granting fast track trade promotion authority to the executive,13 made explicit reference to Executive Order 13,141, and established Environmental Reviews of trade agreements as an indispensable part of the information that the administration had to provide to Congress. Notably, since the passing of the Trade Act, each of the United States’ trade agreements has included a separate environmental chapter, which is negotiated by the USTR’s Office for Environment and Natural Resources, and covers specific aspects related to enforcement of environmental laws and dispute settlement procedures directly linked to the trade flows under the agreement. The U.S. Department of State, in turn, leads the negotiation and implementation of environmental side agreements between the United States and the partner country, which lay out possible capacity building programs and environmental cooperation efforts not necessarily directly related to the FTA itself.14 The Trade Act of 2002 expired in 2007, but the bipartisan trade deal of May 2007 reinforced Congress’ mandate for the promotion of environmental considerations in trade agreements.15 Executive Order 13,141 continues to provide the legal framework for conducting the reviews.

Both in the EU and the United States there seems to have been initial skepticism within the agencies responsible for trade negotiations about whether environmental impact assessments were actually useful, or whether they would just add a layer of complexity to negotiations. Some of our interviewees then perceived clashes of interest between free trade minded negotiators and environmentalist and consequently pointed to possible problems. However, our discussions with policymakers have shown that impact assessments are considered useful, and that there is a commitment to further improve the respective assessment methods. Today, in both the EU and the United States, they have become an established and essential part of the negotiating and public consultation processes, and are well accepted and recognized as providing crucial information to negotiators and trade policymakers.

Scope of Impacts Assessed: Beyond Environmental Impacts?

While similar in objectives, the actual designs of policies in the EU and the United States show marked differences. Concerning the scope of impacts assessed, the EU integrates economic, social, and environmental impacts in one assessment, whereas the United States focuses exclusively on environmental impacts. In the EU, recognizing interdependencies among impacts, economic impacts are usually identified first, from which environmental and social impacts are deducted. Early SIAs included an extremely broad analysis of impacts. The refinement of the complex methodology and improvements in the mandate for external consultants have made recent SIAs more focused on affected sectors instead of having an excessively broad discussion of effects.16

On the U.S. side, Environmental Reviews cover only environmental issues and considerations. The assessment of trade impacts on labor rights and employment, as mandated by the Trade Act of 2002, is conducted in a separate process.17 Capacity building programs—such as the program in the context of the trade agreement with the Central American countries (CAFTA-DR), the environmental part of which funded the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other partners for projects to achieve goals such as strengthening institutions for environmental protection, improvement and enforcements of environmental laws, and local biodiversity conservation—might allocate funding for both issues, but several U.S. officials confirmed that the interaction of those responsible for either process is very limited. Overall, there seems to be a trade-off between an integrated, but often overly complicated analysis that takes into consideration a broad scope of impacts, and a more concise, but less integrated assessment.

Geographic Coverage: Include Impacts in Partners Countries?

The U.S. and EU approaches have a different focus in terms of the geographic coverage of their assessments. The EU’s SIAs feature a very elaborate analysis of impacts in partner countries, which is an explicit objective of the European Commission. Opinions on SIAs assessing the impacts on third countries are mixed, however. On the one hand, some trading partners might interpret SIAs as a means to justify protective measures favoring EU interests.18 On the other hand, some governments could be particularly willing to cooperate when they feel that outcomes could work to their advantage, e.g., receiving foreign aid. The involvement of stakeholders in partner countries can reduce the impression of imposing assessment results on the partner country. A step into this direction has for instance been made in the SIA process for the EU’s agreements with Ukraine, when local stakeholders were involved in a workshop in Kiev and could provide inputs for the impact assessment. Including an assessment of partner countries has made SIAs very complex and lengthy processes, in which it is very difficult and costly to obtain the necessary data.19

The mandate for the USTR, in turn, limits the assessments to impacts within the United States, and transboundary and global impacts. In practice this second clause opened the back door to assessing impacts on the environment of the partner country. The more recent review documents only briefly discuss U.S. domestic impacts and concentrate to a large extent on transboundary and global impacts.20 These typically concern the extent to which multilateral environmental protection agreements are implemented with regard to specific issues, and the quality of laws for environmental protection in the partner country. However, the analysis of impacts in partner countries is by far not as extensive and in-depth as the EU’s.

There is a trade-off between committing substantial resources for assessing impacts in partner countries, which might be particularly desirable in the case of developing countries lacking the resources to assess impacts themselves, and focusing on domestic impacts, thus reducing costs and complexity of the assessment and avoiding the impression of condescension.

LENGTH OF STUDIES: COMPREHENSIVENESS VS. ACCESSIBILITY?

Related to the scope of impacts assessed, and the extent to which impacts in partner countries are taken into consideration, is the sheer number and length of the respective reports. European Union SIA documents are published during distinct phases, and often extend over several hundred pages. Critics of the EU process have pointed to the fact that SIA studies establish only weak links to the negotiations themselves and rather present more general discussions of environmental problems in the respective countries. The length of studies poses a challenge for interested readers to find the relevant information. The Commission has recognized the problem, but has pointed to the consultants’ responsibility to provide concise reports that clearly identify the main findings and recommendations.21

United States Environmental Reviews typically do not exceed fifty pages, and there are only interim and final review documents. Different from the EU SIAs, the U.S. Environmental Reviews explicitly aim at focusing on impacts expected to arise from the specific provisions negotiated, and have been criticized for not going sufficiently in depth on certain issues, and for disregarding interdependencies with other economic effects, such as the effects on employment, for which a separate review is conducted.

The obvious trade-off is between having a very broad and comprehensive assessment of environmental problems, but facing an extremely lengthy document, and restricting the assessment to direct effects, but leaving out possibly relevant information.

RESPONSIBILITY FOR CONDUCTING IMPACT ASSESSMENTS: INDEPENDENCE VS. INSIDE KNOWLEDGE?

A main difference between the U.S. and the EU approaches is that ERs are prepared by USTR officials while EU SIAs are conducted by external consultants. By outsourcing the study to external consultants, the EU’s DG Trade claims to achieve a more neutral view on trade negotiations, thus resulting in higher accountability and transparency.22 The consultants both conduct the analysis and provide policy recommendations to the EU Commission for taking the results into account. The Commission is not bound to agree with the suggestions and proposals made by consultants; whenever recommendations are not considered appropriate, they are stated in a corresponding position paper by the Commission.23 One problem mentioned by interviewees in this regard was that certain findings become known only once the consultants’ report is published, and that recommendations sometimes miss the political realities of negotiations, as external consultants might be lacking an understanding of the complexities of trade policy making. In the past, the EU Commission has criticized consultants’ studies for lack of focus, resulting in a change of the methodology and mandate to consultants.

Thus, outsourcing can impact the study’s quality and the usefulness of its results.24 In the United States, under the oversight of the Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC), the USTR prepares the Environmental Review in cooperation with other departments, so that those responsible for trade negotiations are providing at the same time the review of environmental impacts. United States officials underlined that Environmental Reviews have strengthened the Environmental Office’s standing within USTR. In their view, external consultants would add another layer of complexity. They stated that it is useful to have a constant discussion and information exchange about identified issues, thus also making it possible to address issues immediately in the negotiations of environmental chapters of FTAs. However, the USTR’s double responsibility for conducting Environmental Reviews and negotiating the trade agreements themselves potentially creates conflicts of interest in the preparation and further use of the results of Environmental Reviews.

Obviously, there is a trade-off between the independence of an outside view, which might mean less accurate information about institutional realities and less timely provision of results, on the one hand, and an inside assessment, on the other hand. The latter is less independent and might be perceived as merely justifying what was to be done anyway, but closer to the reality of negotiations and policy options. While negotiators of trade agreements in the EU perceive the SIA as one external report among various others helping them in establishing their negotiation position, their U.S. colleagues were strongly involved in the actual analysis of the environmental impacts.

METHODOLOGICAL APPROACHES: VALUE OF MODELING FOR RESULTS?

There are marked differences between the methodological approaches of the EU and the United States. The EU’s SIA methodology is a mix of quantitative and qualitative analysis that has been repeatedly refined and amended with inputs from the EU Commission, consultants conducting SIAs, and academics. The studies are based on complex economic and scenario modeling techniques, which within the Commission are considered to be rigorous and quantifiable approaches to impacts. At the same time however, as an NGO representative noted, such models can be rather opaque and difficult to understand for outside observers. Also, some critics have questioned what value econometric modeling actually adds to assessing impacts. For example, insufficient data availability in many cases limits the reliability of quantitative analysis, and certain models capture only the effects resulting from tariff reductions, and largely ignore the effects of other measures included in FTAs, such as investment provisions or trade in services.

In the United States, when starting to conduct Environmental Reviews, the assessments were rather generic descriptions of environmental issues in the United States and the partner country. The methodology has been refined and formalized by creating an interagency committee chaired by USTR officials. The review of possible environmental effects now mostly relies on expert opinions from different departments, internal experts, USAID and diplomatic missions in the partner countries, and public comments to identify the most important sectors and issues.25 United States officials interviewed noted that the limited use of economic modeling techniques had been due initially to a lack of resources, but highlighted the continued persuasion within USTR and other departments that the robustness of the assessment did not depend on the sophistication of the modeling. Instead, they considered it crucial to identify issues affected by the particular trade agreement, and to address them and to allow for a variety of inputs. Academics in the United States have applauded this approach as pragmatic and useful.26

There seems to be a trade-off between the desire to base the impact assessment on quantifiable “evidence,” which is constrained by lack of data and the need for assumptions in many cases, and a more narrative and pragmatic, but less quantifiable, approach.

GETTING THE PUBLIC INVOLVED

The involvement of civil society actors and public comments is a well established process in both the EU and the United States. In the EU, external consultants as well as the Commission itself are responsible for stakeholder analyses and organizing workshops, during which results of different stages of the process are presented, and NGOs and other civil society groups can engage in discussions with the consultants and Commission officials. More efforts have been made recently to involve civil society groups in partner countries, and to make them aware of sustainability impacts, which has proven successful for instance in the case of the SIA for the Ukraine agreement.27 Concerning the stakeholder process, NGOs have criticized limited possibilities of stakeholder input into SIAs, especially when formulating the SIA terms of reference.28 While being largely content with the efforts of the EU in engaging stakeholders in trade and environment, discussions with NGO representatives also revealed challenges in allocating resources to commenting on the complex and lengthy process of SIAs, and a consequent decrease in interest, attention, and resources devoted to SIAs.

With other environmental policy areas such as climate change receiving substantially more attention, NGOs have found it difficult or not worthwhile to continue to engage very actively in the SIA process, which includes large amounts of information and a high number of subsequent reports. Along with this shift in the NGOs’ areas of interest, there has been a decline in attendance and in the number of comments on the substance of SIAs. In the United States, requests for public comments are published in the Federal Register, and NGOs and think tanks have in the past had the opportunity to raise their concerns and criticism during hearings before the responsible Congressional committee. Similar to the EU, there have been increasing efforts to hear opinions of groups within partner countries about environmental concerns, e.g. when meeting local groups in Central America.29 Also, NGO representatives, along with U.S. government and business representatives, are members of the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee (TEPAC), which is part of the trade advisory committee system providing advice and guidance on environment and trade issues to the USTR and the Environmental Protection Agency. Similar to those of the EU, U.S. officials mentioned somewhat decreased NGO interest in Environmental Reviews.

Both in the EU and United States, non-governmental groups seem generally pleased with the opportunity to comment, however they have claimed that efforts are not sufficient to ensure environmental protection. We assume that this is one of the reasons for a decline in interest in commenting on environmental impact assessments, as general concerns about the methods have been raised before. In addition, the complex assessment process can be difficult to follow for smaller environmental groups, which also have other priorities.

ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF IMPACT ASSESSMENTS: THE ROLE OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS IN TRADE NEGOTIATIONS AND IMPLEMENTATION

It is crucial to consider what role environmental considerations play in negotiations, the extent to which environmental issues are considered in the implementation of a trade agreement, and how strongly efforts are made to mitigate possible negative effects on the environment. Mitigation measures are of particular interest in the context of negotiations with developing countries, which might lack the capacity and resources to take action themselves. Three aspects are important in this respect:

First, an analysis of the influence on negotiations can be only a qualitative discussion and is almost impossible, as neither the EU nor the United States have a legal provision forcing negotiators to make assessment results a basis for a change in policy. The use of results in negotiations eventually is at the discretion of negotiators and consequently is rather opaque. However, it should be noted that public pressure can potentially be high. NGO representatives stated that the assessment documents make potential impacts public, and can serve as an information basis of civil society groups’ advocacy work. The dismissal of concerns identified in SIAs or Environmental Reviews by policymakers would consequently be subject to public scrutiny and opposition.

Second, programs directly aimed at mitigating effects identified in impact assessments are not easily found. We found that the link from the EU’s SIA results to projects supporting environmental protection and capacity in partner countries tends to be rather weak.30 Programs might be introduced if specific corresponding priorities are included in the agreement itself, which, however, is at the discretion of the trade negotiators. As a result, projects directly addressing problems identified in the SIA almost cannot be traced back to the SIA. This differs from the U.S. approach, where project proposals and/or priorities for capacity building programs are laid out in the environmental side agreement to the trade agreement. The State Department has the responsibility for both the negotiation and implementation of these, so that quite direct links can be made between the issues identified as important in the Environmental Review and the programs for capacity building.31 In the case of CAFTA-DR, Central American partner countries were asked to prepare action plans, including their own assessment of their need for outside support and capacity building to address environmental problems that were expected to be exacerbated by international trade. The action plans were a starting point for discussions and cooperation during the negotiations, the Environmental Review process, and the subsequent funding for capacity building programs. Many of our U.S. interviewees considered the dialogue a success, feeling that partner countries had felt part of the process rather than just being subject to an assessment from the outside. This engagement of partner countries in formulating their own priorities is a commendable approach that should be continued and expanded in the future.

Third, a direct influence on changes in negotiating positions actually might not be the most important aspect about the assessments. Instead, the necessity of dealing with environmental issues, the sheer obligation to conduct an assessment, and the mandate to engage the public for a discussion about results have brought about changes in the mindsets of trade negotiators. Also, institutional changes can be found in both the EU and the United States, where units dealing with environmental issues have been established or expanded within the agencies responsible for trade policy and negotiations. The SIA coordinator within the EU’s DG Trade regularly interacts with negotiators. Within the USTR, the Office for Environment and Natural Resources has an important role in preparing the Environmental Reviews and negotiating the environmental chapters of U.S. trade agreements. The experiences with negotiating these environmental chapters have been very positive with respect to engaging environmental experts not only in the United States, but also on the partner country side. A number of U.S. officials vividly highlighted that they considered it a huge success that the Environmental Review and the negotiations on the environmental chapter and side agreements encouraged an interagency exchange between trade negotiators and environmental experts within the partner countries, opportunities that had not existed before. With the U.S. experience being positive, we see the fact that environmental provisions have been made part of the trade chapter of the EU’s recent Economic Partnership Agreement with the Caribbean countries as a commendable step. Making these provisions part of the FTA text itself not only gives an indication of increased emphasis that is put on environmental issues, but also encourages partner countries to form their own negotiating position in this realm and to bring environmental experts to the trade negotiation table.

Conclusions and Outlook: Future Prospects and Opportunities for Transatlantic Dialogue

Our discussion has revealed the characteristics of the environmental impact assessment methodologies of the EU and the United States. We also pointed to the trade-offs and potential conflicts in making certain methodological choices. To understand these choices, ways of thinking about environmental impact assessments of trade agreements, and the emphasis that is being put on certain aspects, the institutional characteristics and corresponding needs of the EU Commission and the USTR, respectively, are important to consider.

The EU is institutionally complex, consisting of 27 member countries, and often is perceived as a bureaucratic giant, with the Commission in particular lacking direct democratic legitimacy. The emphasis the EU thus puts on the independence of the assessment and the width and depth of the analysis can be interpreted against the background of the desire to seek justification and legitimate backing for its policies. Providing transparency about assessment results and involving civil society groups is given very high importance in this context. The United States, in turn, is a single sovereign state, and the USTR is directly responsible to the President and is mandated to provide information on its trade negotiations to Congress, which might mean that it is less in need to be concerned with additional legitimacy. United States officials stressed that the intertwined interagency process including experts from various departments is understood as providing high credibility to the Environmental Review process. Not spreading responsibilities even further beyond the interagency committee was perceived as an advantage and an efficient approach.

Officials on both sides seem generally pleased with the development of their own approach. However, the knowledge in both the EU and the United States about what the other is doing with regard to environmental impact assessments of trade agreements is fairly limited, as has become clear during our discussions with EU and U.S. policy makers. Developments and improvements to their own approaches to environmental impact assessments of trade agreements were largely internal processes, with very little regard of the experiences made with a particular aspect on the other side of the Atlantic. Given the established differing institutional settings and goals in the EU and the United States, there seems to be some reluctance to comparing the two different approaches and assessing their advantages and disadvantages. Not the least, we noticed that policymakers distanced themselves from the other side’s policies with regard to environment and trade without knowing the details about them, which might indicate that certain clichés and transatlantic animosities exist.

We think that this reluctance should be overcome and an open dialogue and exchange should be fostered. An improved understanding and information exchange about experiences—what “works” and what doesn’t—can benefit both the EU and the United States. Policymakers need to be aware of what possibilities other than their established processes exist and take on ideas for improving and adapting their own. Both sides pursue the same goal with their assessment methods – including environmental considerations into trade agreements. Learning from each other’s experiences will create synergies and benefits across the Atlantic and help achieve this objective more quickly.

So far, the WTO Doha round is the only round of negotiations in which both the EU and the United States were involved and for which both conducted their own SIA and Environmental Review. The other side’s approach or results were not known in the EU or the United States, while a cooperation and exchange might have led to a more comprehensive assessment and understanding of environmental impacts to be expected—and thus more meaningful steps and measures to enhance environmental protection. Especially since the underlying guidelines to conducting impact assessments are constantly changing and adapting, both methods just represent a snapshot of the current development of the approach. This process of constant change is an opportunity to take up best practices and incorporate them.

The EU’s Stocktaking Conference on Trade SIAs in May 2006, during which the USTR’s Director for Environmental Reviews presented the U.S. experience, was a commendable step toward a more meaningful exchange and fostering a dialogue about different methods. In the future, such an exchange should be put on the agenda of transatlantic consultations and encouraged at a high level. However, given the complexity and technicalities of the assessments, the actual exchange needs to take place between officials actually involved in assessing impacts and mitigating them. We think that both sides can benefit substantially from this exchange.

Finally, one should not only look at what kind of approach works well institutionally for each administration. Rather, it is fundamentally important to assess which means have succesfully fostered environmental protection and adaptation to the effects of changing trade flows. With the discussion about environmental impact assessments often concerned with technicalities of the process, this ultimate goal should not be forgotten.

Notes

Lisa Alf, Claudia Assmann, Marianne Bauer, and Jenny Weinkopf are 2008 graduates of The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) where they studied international policy. The four graduates are from Sweden, Germany, and Austria. Their comprehensive study of environmental impact assessments of trade agreements, conducted in 2007-2008, and on which this article is based, was supported by the Luce Foundation and Ecologic, a Berlin-based think tank.