Sierra Club Conservation Policies
The Sierra Club believes that environmental policy must not be subservient to trade
policy. Trade policy internationally must be reformed to reflect full compatibility with
environmental needs. Toward that end:
- All units of government should be able to make their environmental regulations and
programs as strong as they wish, unrestricted by trade policy, provided that their
regulations apply equally to domestic and foreign products (i.e., are non-discriminatory);
- These environmental regulations should not be limited in stringency by upper limits set
by international bodies or trade institutions;
- Nor should they be subject to standards of acceptability set by international trade
institutions; conflicts between trade and environmental policy should be resolved by
- Trade institutions should operate in an open and accountable manner which permits public
participation; normal deliberative practices should not be suspended when trade agreements
are approved by nation legislative bodies;
- Nations should be able to restrict imports into and exports from their national
territory on a non-discriminatory basis in order to pursue bona fide environmental
objects, such as enacting "life cycle" product responsibility laws; laws
designed to keep products harmful to the environment out of circulation; to prevent
resource depletion both at home and abroad; to protect endangered species and habitats
anywhere; and to enforce international environmental conventions;
- There should be no presumption that trade agreements prevail in cases of conflict with
international environmental conventions, nor should the scope of such conventions be
limited by trade doctrine; and
- Governments should be able to provide subsidies to encourage good environmental
practices, as in agriculture, without being precluded from doing so by trade policies.
Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 7-8, 1994
The following Guidelines have been adopted by the Club's International Committee for
implementation of the policy on international trade:
1. Trade agreements (such as the GATT) must not interfere with the authority of
nations, or their subdivisions, to make environmental regulations as strong as they
choose, as long as they apply equally to domestic and foreign products. Sates, provinces,
and local authorities must also retain the authority under these conditions to promulgate
regulations which are even stronger than those set at the national or international level.
However, bodies at the international level should be empowered to promulgate environmental
regulations which set a minimum, or floor, for all jurisdictions.
2. Nations and their subdivisions should be empowered to make environmental regulations
dealing with imported products to protect their territory and citizens, their borders, and
global commons (high seas, atmosphere and space).
Moreover, they should be empowered to
act by themselves to regulate imports where they are trying to protect significant
environmental values located in the territories of other countries in the following cases,
provided there is no discrimination in favor of domestic products; to protect species of
wildlife which are either endemic, vulnerable, threatened or endangered; to protect
genetic variability within populations of wildlife species, or to protect given
populations of wildlife which are endemic, or which are vulnerable, threatened, or
endangered; to protect critical habitats, including ecosystems and biomes; to protect
protected areas which are being compromised; to deter unsustainable takings of wildlife
(e.g., takings which are excessive or involve non-target species); to protect traditional,
sustainable patterns of life in human communities, including subsistence, agrarian
economies; or to deter production processes which injure community health or workers owing
to grossly lax environmental standards.
3. Nations should also be empowered to act alone in enforcing the environmental
policies of international governmental institutions (of the UN or treaty powers) through
the use of trade sanctions, including measures against collateral products and against
nations which have not signed the environmental treaties in question (e.g., under the
4. Environmental laws and regulations should find their justification as public policy
in terms of environmental considerations and not have to meet tests posed by trade bodies
which attempt to make environmental regulations subservient to trade policy.
5. Nations must have the right to restrict the export of their products to protect
their domestic environment, provided that domestic consumption of these products is
subjected to similar limitations, where applicable. Restrictions may be justified to limit
or prevent the depletion of scarce natural resources, to reduce environmental impacts, or
to keep products which harm the environment out of circulation. Where applicable, they
should also be able to restrict exports where they might endanger significant
environmental values in other countries (see 2).
6. Nations should also be able to require that companies domiciled there, or controlled
by their citizens, comply with the environmental standards which are higher when these
companies operate abroad -- those of their home country or host country. Nations should be
able to make financial assistance to such firms contingent upon compliance with such
requirements. Nations should also be allowed to tax earnings on foreign investments
differently according to whether such requirements are met.
7. However, in general the Club does not favor subsidies by government to enterprises
which operate for market purposes. It believes that such enterprises should pay their own
way and internalize the costs of protecting the environment in their operations and
prices. It recognizes that subsidies for non-market operations pose a different question,
and the Club acknowledges that some subsidies for environmental purposes may be justified.
Because in practice it is not possible to isolate subsidies to firms for environmental
purposes so that they have no effect upon the market, the Club opposes trade doctrines
which would rule out such environmental subsidies if they provide any discernible
8. National institutions, and their subdivisions, which are democratically accountable,
and which do not discriminate between domestic and foreign products in their policies,
should not be forced to cede authority over bona fide environmental regulation to
international trading institutions, such as the GATT, which are not accountable, that
operate in secret, that exclude the public as observers, or that cede authority to
private, commercial entities (e.g., Codex Alimentarius). Trade institutions should be
required to operate in an open, accountable manner so that the public can have ready
access to vital documents, provide input, observe proceedings, and have recourse where
commitments are violated. No authority should be ceded to privately constituted bodies.
9. Determinations on the fate of environmental regulations promulgated by national and
sub-national authorities should not be made through arbitrary, accelerated procedures in
legislative bodies (e.g., the "fast track" procedure in the U.S. Congress) that
provide too little time to understand the content of trade proposals, that deny
opportunity to correct defects, or that deny final votes on the proposals (offering only
an "up or down" vote on accepting all changes proposed in domestic legislation
for the purposes of implementation).
10. Environmental treaties and agreements should not have to give way to trade
agreements when they are in conflict. Customary doctrines of international law for
resolving conflicts of laws in such cases should be applies.
11. When disputes arise over conflicts between environmental regulations and trade
doctrines, these should not be decided by parties biased against environmental regulations
(e.g., GATT panels). It should be presumed that environmental regulatory authorities will
decide such questions, unless a threshold case is made before an appropriately neutral,
expert body, such as the International Court of Justice or a panel of arbitration, that
domestic and foreign products have been treated differently. When such a case is made,
such neutral, third-party adjudicatory bodies should decide the dispute.