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Staff writer

Trade … the environment … simple words that all too often give way to an alphabet soup of memory-defying acronyms that could only have been concocted in a fit of culinary lunacy.

Or by government officials pasting together an international agreement. Now their finished products, which come only after years of bartering, are causing some concern: Trade pacts and environmental initiatives share only one common trait — mutual exclusivity.

In an attempt to try to change this, 10 experts have convened in Tokyo; on Thursday, they noted that coordination within and among nations will be critical to avoid confusion between measures to combat climate change and those to promote free trade.

They also voiced concern that the proliferation of international agreements has created an increasingly tangled web, or complex “treaty landscape,” with no clear hierarchy or mechanism for resolving disputes.

If a conflict arises between the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/WTO and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, “there is nothing in either that gives us an easy answer as to how that conflict can be resolved,” said Catherine Redgwell, an environmental law specialist and professor at the University of Nottingham.

Others noted that the WTO’s tendency to treat nations and their products as equals, combined with the penchant of the Kyoto Protocol — the latest manifestation of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change — to emphasize national differences, might prove to be a recipe for trouble. “One of the reasons that people are concerned that disputes might arise is that the Kyoto Protocol likes making distinctions both between countries and between products,” said Jacob Werkson, senior lawyer and managing director of Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development.

In contrast, the WTO and Multilateral Agreement on Investment — an agreement in its second year of negotiation — are premised on treating countries the same when they trade or invest abroad, he said.

One possible predicament could arise if a nation, in an attempt to lower emissions, tries to encourage consumption of a product produced in a more climate-friendly manner. Under WTO rules “measures cannot be taken on imports because of the way they are produced,” said Gary Sampson, director of the WTO’s Trade and Environment Division.

“If products are physically the same when they cross the border,” he continued, “they have to be treated the same. So any country which chooses to restrict an import in such a way as to hamper or hinder a country which it believes has not met some requirement would be touching on one of the most fundamental principles of the WTO.”

More confusion could be bred by countries that agree to disagree, especially if they are parties to the protocol and members of the WTO. Deciding who will resolve the issue and under what principles could prove to be touchy.

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