Diplomats from 14 World Trade Organization (WTO) members have launched a set of plurilateral talks intended to eliminate tariffs on so-called ‘environmental goods’ – products such as solar panels, wind turbines and other technologies that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of sustainable energy.
On July 8, the representatives met in Geneva to start ongoing negotiations for an Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA). Taking part in the talks are Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Costa Rica, the European Union, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland and the U.S. The WTO says the participating members make up 86% of global environmental goods trade, and the negotiations are open to any WTO member.
Earlier this year, the 14 governments revealed their intention to launch international negotiations to eliminate the tariffs. The talks will build on a list of 54 environmental goods put together by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries in 2012 to reduce import tariffs to 5% or less by the end of 2015.
According to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, global trade in environmental goods totals nearly $1 trillion annually, and some WTO members currently apply tariffs as high as 35% on these products. He says the EGA is the primary trade aspect of President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan, announced in June 2013.
"By eliminating tariffs on the technologies we all need to protect our environment, we can make environmental goods cheaper and more accessible for everyone, making essential progress toward our environmental protection and trade policy goals," Froman says in a statement.
Negotiators will meet regularly in Geneva to discuss substance and product coverage. The WTO says the first phase of the negotiations will aim to eliminate tariffs or customs duties on a wide range of environmental goods. A second phase will address the bureaucratic or legal issues that could cause hindrances to trade – known as non-tariff barriers – and environmental services.
The Alliance of the Sustainable Energy Trade Initiative has welcomed the efforts of the WTO members.
"An early breakthrough in international trade negotiations on environmental goods would serve as an important signal to the world of the need to remove unnecessary barriers to trade in the technologies that are meant to deliver important and affordable climate change solutions," says Peter C. Brun, managing director of the alliance, in a statement.