24 March 2014
The Obama administration has announced its intent to begin negotiations on a new trade agreement in the World Trade Organization (WTO) aimed at eliminating tariffs on a wide range of environmental goods.
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman notified the U.S. Congress of the administration’s intention in a March 21 letter, according to a news release from his office the same day.
Earlier in 2014, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the United States and 13 other WTO members, accounting for 86 percent of global trade in environmental goods, announced their intention to participate in these negotiations. The members are Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, the European Union, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland and Taiwan.
The negotiations will begin in Geneva as soon as each member has finalized its domestic consultation procedures.
Froman said in his notification letter that the negotiations “will build on U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum on environmental goods, and maintain momentum in the WTO for the kinds of fresh, credible approaches to trade negotiation that led to success at the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2013.”
At the Ninth Ministerial Conference, held in Bali, Indonesia, ministers adopted the “Bali Package,” a series of decisions aimed at streamlining trade, allowing developing countries more options for providing food security, boosting least-developed countries’ trade and helping development more generally. They also adopted a number of more routine decisions and accepted Yemen as a new member of the WTO.
In 2013, the United States exported $106 billion of environmental goods, such as wind turbines, solar panels and wastewater treatment technologies. Global trade in environmental goods is estimated at nearly $1 trillion annually. Some WTO members charge tariffs as high as 35 percent on environmental goods.
An agreement on environmental goods can “make an important contribution to the domestic and international environmental protection agenda,” Froman wrote in his letter to Congress. “By eliminating tariffs on the environmental technologies we need to keep our air and water clean, for example, we can make them cheaper and more accessible to everyone.”