World Trade Organization Members Agree to Help End Plastic Pollution

Commitment to cooperate on trade action comes at critical moment

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World Trade Organization Members Agree to Help End Plastic Pollution
Multicoloured plastic and other debris are strewn across wet sand on a beach at low tide.
Plastic pollution, seen here on a beach in India, is a growing problem across the globe. The World Trade Organization has taken an important step to tackle the issue by committing to cooperate on trade-related efforts to help end plastic pollution.
Abhishek Mehta Getty Images

With our planet awash in plastic—from the highest mountain peaks to the deepest ocean trenches, and in the tissue and blood of people and wildlife—it’s far past time for decision makers across the globe to act to curtail plastic pollution.

And on 27 February, the World Trade Organization (WTO) took an important step in that direction when the six co-convening countries of the organization’s Dialogue on Plastic Pollution (DPP) announced that participating members had agreed to cooperate on trade-related action to support global efforts to end plastic pollution. The action was announced at the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference, where the DPP also committed to developing a new workplan to seek concrete outcomes in ending plastic pollution. The DPP agreed to identify those outcomes by the WTO’s 14th Ministerial Conference, likely to take place in 2026.

WTO members launched the DPP in 2020 to explore how the organization could contribute to reducing plastic pollution and promote a transition to more environmentally sustainable trade in plastics. In 2022, the DPP committed to supporting negotiations to develop a global treaty—technically known as an international legally binding instrument—on reducing plastic pollution. 

As part of the 27 February announcement, the DPP also circulated a non-exhaustive list of actions, policies, and measures that its members have either undertaken or proposed to take in order to reduce plastic pollution.

The DPP’s willingness to tackle the growing problem of plastic pollution comes at a critical moment, with official negotiations for a plastic pollution treaty set to resume in a matter of weeks. Further, with many governments already taking action within their own borders, greater and more ambitious collective action at the global level is now urgently needed if humanity hopes to end plastic pollution by 2040—a commitment shared by the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, an intergovernmental coalition of more than 60 United Nations member countries.

The commitment to cultivating an opportunity for governments to discuss greater trade cooperation to fight plastic pollution is all the more important given that a potential treaty could transform economies—and therefore supply chains—around the world.

The Pew Charitable Trusts urges DPP members to narrow their focus in the coming months to a handful of thematic areas that are ripe for immediate action—for example, addressing the most highly polluting plastics—and to harmonize policy interventions across borders to make them more effective.

WTO members at the Ministerial Conference are also negotiating new rules to curb subsidies that contribute to countries fishing in other countries’ waters, and to overfishing and overcapacity within a nation’s own waters.

As all of these talks advance, WTO members should keep their eyes on the future. The work ahead poses challenges—but it’s vital that governments are ambitious as they work to safeguard the health of our planet and communities.

Isabel Jarrett works on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ preventing ocean plastics project.

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