US Continues Push to Open Trade in Environmental Goods

28 April 2010

The United States is still working to secure a deal that would slash barriers to trade in environmental goods and services, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Monday.

"We think it only makes sense to make the trade of those goods more open," Kirk said, according to a report from Bloomberg. He added that the issue "is important enough" that it could move forward on its own, outside the context of the WTO's Doha Round trade talks. He also noted that the US has been discussing the matter with officials from Australia, Canada and the European Union.

Liberalising trade in environmental goods and services (EGS) is one of the many issues under consideration in the global trade talks at the WTO. However, with a broad multilateral trade deal nowhere in sight after eight and a half years of negotiations, officials eager to open EGS trade are pursuing other options. Some prominent businesses, notably General Electric, have thrown their support behind efforts to secure a stand-alone pact.

Advocates say that an EGS deal could end up looking similar to the WTO's Information Technology Agreement (ITA) - a plurilateral deal to liberalise trade in IT products that has generally been considered a success. Negotiations over the ITA ended in December 1996, but the deal did not take effect until July of the following year after countries representing 90 percent of trade in the goods in question had agreed to sign on. Such a "critical mass" of industry would also be required before an EGS deal could enter force.

For now, Kirk is doing his homework. Earlier this month, the USTR's office asked the US International Trade Commission to draw up reports on how an EGS deal would impact US industry and consumers and what it would mean for US exports of clean technologies. The reports are expected in October of this year and February 2011, respectively.

In related news, a group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill on Tuesday that aims to boost the competitiveness of the US clean technology industry. The bill - sponsored by Representatives Doris Matsui and Anna Eshoo of California, Bobby Rush of Illinois and John Dingell of Michigan -- would establish a US$ 15 million fund under the International Trade Administration, a branch of the Department of Commerce, to provide "export assistance" for US clean technology firms.

"Right now, the global market for environmental goods and services is estimated at US$ 700 billion," said Rep. Rush, the chair of the House subcommittee on trade and consumer protection, in a statement. "This means that the future of the overall US economy not only depends upon a vibrant domestic market but strong American leadership in the rapidly expanding green economy." He noted that of the world's 30 largest clean technology firms, only six are headquartered in the United States.

ICTSD reporting; "US seeks to push ahead with trade deal on green technologies," BLOOMBERG, 26 April 2010.

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