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April 2000

Trade and the environment: one of the post-Seattle challenges

Yolande Biké, in her office at the Mission of Gabon in Geneva

The environment is one of the concerns which has focalised the fears of WTO opponents over the past few months, particularly during the Conference of Ministers in Seattle. Yolande Biké, the new president of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment and the first representative from the African continent to occupy this position, understands these anxieties. Moreover, the Gabon Ambassador in Geneva highlights the complexity of this vast issue: "The stakes are high and the subject of much debate. The interdependence between trade and environmental policies (which are not necessarily mutually compatible in such areas as agriculture, services, the exploitation of natural resources, industrialisation, etc.) aggravate differences of opinion and fuel antagonism."

This is the case with environmental standards. "It is a source of great worry to the producers and exporters in developing countries, explains Yolande Biké. Some see it as a concealed form of protectionism, a way of creating new obstacles aimed at blocking access to markets for products from the South. These worries must be relieved or allayed through discussion and the search for substantive technological solutions."

These are complex and vital problems, which affect the North as much as the South. As a result, the office performed by the Gabon Ambassador at the head of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment takes on crucial importance. "My role should consist in encouraging better communication, in urging delegations towards constructive dialogue in order that these matters be broached in a serene, unhurried fashion, without anything being imposed by one party or rejected by another outright."



Yolande Biké

Current offices:

-Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Gabon to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva and Vienna

-President of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment

-President of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors in Geneva


-Graduate of the Université Catholique d'Angers and of Paris III University (Sorbonne-Nouvelle)

Career path:

-Project Officer for the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (1982)

-Secretary-General of the Gabon Energy and Water Company (1988)

-Ministerial delegate, then Minister for Youth, Sport and Women's Affairs (1991-1994)

Access to Information Technology: paramount

One of the difficulties encountered by Missions such as that of Gabon is dealing with the very high cost of living in Geneva. "It's a big handicap, concedes Yolande Biké. As an illustration, only half the African countries are represented here". There are blatant needs for IT equipment to access the new technologies, but for a small Mission, material circumstances are not the only consideration. Assistance in the areas of analysis and research can in fact be of precious help when faced with the multiplicity of problems and questions of a fundamental nature affecting the economic and social development of our countries. "We place a great deal of faith in the technical support provided to us by various institutions who simplify the task by producing analytical summaries upon which we can base our efforts."


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