ON Oct. 4, renegotiation of the International Tropical Timber Agreement will resume. The ITTA is a commodity agreement among the 49 country members of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). The renegotiation offers an opportunity for the United States to make concrete its stated advocacy of sustainable development of all the world's forests, including its own.
The primary issue in the talks is a proposal to broaden the ITTA's scope to include timber from all types of forests, not just tropical, in meeting the global imperative for sustainable development. All developing countries - the tropical timber producers - favor this proposal, as do major environmental groups. So far, the US and its timber industry have firmly opposed it.
This suggests the same double standard for which the US was condemned at last year's Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. A shift in the US position at the ITTA negotiations could help restore Washington's credibility on international environmental issues.
Recent US gestures express a strong interest in forest issues. These include attempts to resolve the controversy in the US Pacific Northwest and a bold pledge to achieve sustainable management of US forests by the year 2000, made at the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, held in Helsinki in June.
The Helsinki pledge is commendable, but to date the US has not defined how, or whether, it will be implemented. Furthermore, the Helsinki commitment was not made within the ITTA. As a result, it does not constitute an international agreement. Nor is it subject to the ITTO's ``Target 2000,'' under which member countries have agreed that by the year 2000 they will trade only in tropical timber from sustainable sources. So far, no industrialized nation has agreed to adhere to this ``Target 2000'' plan for its own timber. To many observers, these actions reflect clear disparities between public policy statements and the apparent intentions of industrial countries to avoid common standards of behavior. These inconsistencies are tantamount to discrimination.
THE ITTA is the only international commodity agreement that excludes the type of commodity on the basis of its geographical origin. In a global marketplace where temperate and tropical woods are increasingly substituted for each other, this is no longer a reasonable approach. Nor is it acceptable morally, environmentally, or economically.
We must recognize the strong interdependence between trade and the environment, between international policymaking and people's lives, and between North and South. Our nation must take the lead by embracing the kind of fundamental reforms that reflect the realities of the post-cold-war world.
Specifically, the US should:
* Broaden the scope of the ITTA to include timber from all types of forests.
* Support an agreement within the ITTA for all countries to adopt and meet ``Target 2000'' for all types of timber.
* Implement the US Helsinki commitment to achieve sustainable management of US forests by the year 2000.
These measures would help the US to reassert its environmental leadership in the international arena, to slow the rapid pace of global deforestation, and to im- prove the international dialogue on sustainable development. There is no time to waste.