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Free Trade Opens Environmental Window

Inter Press Service

Free Trade Opens Environmental Window

By Milagros Salazar - Tierramérica

1 November 2008

LIMA (IPS) - Legislative decree 1090, which modifies Peru’s forest policy, is worrying U.S. trade authorities because it contravenes environmental clauses of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that is to enter force between the two countries in January 2009.

The decree, which in June amended the Forestry and Wildlife Act, leaves 45 million hectares — or 60 percent of Peru’s jungles — out of the Forestry Heritage protection system — a step that runs counter to the FTA forestry annex.

That was one of the 10 observations made by the Office of the U.S Trade Representative, Susan Schwab, in a meeting with delegates of the Peruvian government earlier this month in Washington, according to Sandro Chávez, president of the non-governmental Ecological Forum (Foro Ecológico).

It was a point of concern particularly for U.S. authorities, Chávez told Tierramérica, as was the elimination of the National Forestry Commission, which ensured citizen participation in forest management and was stipulated in the unmodified version of the law.

At the meeting, the U.S. delegates stated that in order to implement the free trade agreement, a public consultation mechanism for forest issues was essential, he said.

Decree 1090 is one of the 99 adopted by the executive branch under special legislative powers granted it by Congress for the implementation of the FTA.

The 10 observations voiced by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative were based on challenges from the Ecological Forum, which is an umbrella group of non-governmental organisations from the two countries, Chávez said.

Sources with the U.S. Embassy in Peru told Tierramérica that the Peruvian government sent a letter on Oct. 20 responding to the concerns of the U.S. Trade Representative. But the content of the letter was confidential, they said.

Peru’s Foreign Trade and Tourism Minister Mercedes Aráoz, who sent the missive, assured Tierramérica that it is a matter of "conversations that we need to polish" as part of the implementation of the trade agreement.

"The United States only sent me comments, suggestions and questions about how such-and-such things are going to be done. Nobody has said ’we are frustrated’; those are comments by some non-governmental organisations that have their own interests," she said. "But if we have to make changes, they will be made."

Peru’s new Prime Minister Yehude Simon has recognised that some of the decrees should be reviewed. The orders for implementation of decree 1090, which the executive branch is drawing up, could be just the time to do so.

"We hope that not only are small changes made in the implementation orders, but also that Congress overturns the decree" and proposes a new law, environmental legislation expert Alberto Barandarián told Tierramérica.

The ombudsman’s office stated last week in a report that the decree "would debilitate the mechanisms that ensured sustainable use of forest plantations" and would not guarantee the protection of virgin forests.

"The measures adopted in decree 1090, (in addition to) the inexistence of standards to ensure their application only in appropriate forestry areas that have already lost their forest cover, could promote deforestation of virgin forest in order to boost the number of hectares that qualify for such use," says the report.

The report was made at the request of Róger Nájar, chairman of the legislative committee on Andean, Amazon and Afro- Peruvian Peoples, the Environment and Ecology, which is promoting a new forestry bill.

According to Barandarián, the decree also runs counter to the constitution and the law on regional governments because it reduces their authority in favour of the forestry concessions oversight body.

Another aspect that worries environmentalists is that the decree opens the possibility that illegally cut timber that is seized could be sold and legalised.

The ombudsman’s office warns that Article 41 of the decree "would permit the legalisation of timber of controversial origin, which could be an incentive for illicit activities."

Chávez said that as of 2009, timber trafficking will be blocked by the United States because of a rule adopted by that country that will require certificates of origin for all imported lumber products.

Of the 99 decrees approved for the implementation of the FTA, 25 involve agriculture and most are aimed at boosting corporate investment, activist Laureano del Castillo, of the Peruvian Centre for Social Studies, told Tierramérica.

"Here they are promoting corporate interests over those of local communities or small farmers," he said.

Another decree, 1064, which overturned the Land Law, fails to closely regulate zoning rules that define agricultural lands and eliminates the requirement to obtain prior agreement from local communities and farmers before launching mining or oil drilling projects.

"The U.S. observations are proof that things have been poorly done," sociologist Alejandra Alayza, coordinator of the Peruvian Network for Equitable Globalisation, told Tierramérica.

But "the mechanism for implementing the FTA itself paves the way for overturning and modifying those decrees that affect local communities and environmental management," she said.

(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.) (END/2008)