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$1trn plastic industry threatens seaborne trade

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Marine debris

With about 75 per cent of all the plastic ever produced becoming waste, there are growing concerns that the $1 trillion industry is endangering lives of aquatic animals and poses risks to ocean and sea-related businesses.
 
Already, countries are now exploring how to use trade and development policies and negotiations in the fight against plastic pollution.
 
The United Nation Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said cooperation on trade is critical to global efforts to tackle plastic pollution, one of the recent most persistent environmental problems.
 
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Speakers at a high-level event organized by UNCTAD, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Forum on Trade, Environment and the SDGs and Ecuador, highlighted where and how trade policies are relevant to plastic pollution, and the need for stronger international efforts and cooperation to tackle plastic pollution, including through a proposed new global treaty under the UN Environment Assembly.
 
UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General, Isabelle Durant, said: “Plastic is everywhere. It’s a multi-faceted, big business. Global plastics trade is worth at least $1 trillion, and virtually every country is involved.”
 
The world’s plastics-dependent economy generates large volumes of plastic waste. In 2020, plastic waste amounted to 367 million metric tons, with 8 to 12 million metric tons ending up in oceans.

About 75% of all the plastic ever produced has become waste, a trend that may continue if measures to reduce, substitute, collect, recycle and sustainably dispose plastics are not put in place with harmonised global rules worldwide.
 
Noting that trade policies can be vehicles for change, Durant said cooperation on trade can play a big role in tackling the plastic pollution menace because “trade occurs at every step in the plastics lifecycle; from its fossil fuel inputs, to intermediate products, final goods and even waste.”
 
She outlined how trade and development policies and negotiations can be essential vehicles for change in the fight against plastic pollution.
 
“Multilateral trade rules should ensure that national regulations, bans, taxes and other mechanisms meant to tackle plastic pollution are set in a fair, non-discriminatory and transparent manner,” she said.
 
Also, trade negotiations should contribute to incrementally phase out fuel subsidies that drive low primary plastic prices, leading to more traction to natural material alternatives, Ms. Durant added.
 
She said the negotiations should promote environmental services liberalisation, minimum regulatory harmonisation and investment facilitation in solid waste management and recycling.

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