APEC economies pledge environment action

14 November 2014

Leaders from the now 21-economy Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meeting earlier this week in Beijing, China signed off on a declaration committing to a series of actions geared towards bolstering environmental safeguards and the sustainable use of natural resources.

These include the sizeable task of tackling illegal trade in wildlife and timber products, ramping up regional collaboration on marine-related challenges, and further work to shore up clean energy access.

APEC leaders on Tuesday also reaffirmed a commitment made in 2012 to reduce applied tariffs on a negotiated list of environmental goods to five percent or less by the end of next year.

Efforts towards putting in place this commitment ­– which will involve considerable technical work on tariff lines and dialogue with customs officials ­– is being undertaken by APEC nations and leaders this past week instructed officials to submit implementation plans by next year.

In August APEC delegates and experts gathered in the Chinese capital for a two-week meeting geared towards building technical capacity among member economies in this area. (See BioRes, 22 August 2014)

Meanwhile a plurilateral initiative by a group of 14 WTO members to negotiate a tariff-cutting deal, known formally as the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) negotiations, was also welcomed by APEC leaders on Tuesday. EGA participants also include some APEC economies.

Launched back in July, the EGA participants will meet again in next month for another discussion round, aimed at identifying potential goods to include. The December EGA talks will focus on goods related to wastewater management and water treatment, environmental remediation and clean-up, and noise and vibration abatement.

Boosting clean energy

Tuesday’s document welcomes a declaration by APEC energy ministers in September. This was geared towards securing energy access for the region and boosting clean energy sources. The energy declaration reiterates commitments to double the share of renewables in APEC’s energy mix by 2030. (See BioRes, 10 September 2014)

Tuesday's declaration also endorses a statement on promoting renewable and clean energy trade and investment. Actions listed include promoting market openness by reducing trade barriers on goods in this area. A commitment is made to boosting regulatory coherence, including by exploring the alignment of standards and certification systems in the sector, and balanced intellectual property rights to encourage innovation.

Illegal wildlife trade

Listed under the banner of the “new economy,” Tuesday’s declaration includes messages on illegal activity around forest commodities and wildlife trade.

The 21 economies reaffirm a commitment to promote trade in legal timber and instruct their officials to consider proposals around information sharing and transparency in order to crack down on illicit transactions.

APEC economies are home to 53 percent of the world’s forests and account for approximately 80 percent of trade in forest commodities, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). While much of this trade is legal, APEC includes some economies that continue to battle against illegal logging practices, whether for trade or linked to forest clearing. For example, between 40 to 61 percent of timber production in Indonesia is believed to stem from illegal logging, reports environmental group WWF.

According to a US press statement, an APEC expert group focused on the subject is in the process of developing regional policy guidelines on the scope of laws relevant to identifying illegal logging and associated trade.

Furthermore, APEC leaders confirmed their willingness to reduce the supply and demand for illegally traded wildlife products in the region, building on commitments made in 2012. This will include information sharing, intelligence, distribution of best practices, and strengthening institutional cooperation.

John Scanlon, Executive Secretary of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, welcomed the development. An international treaty signed by 180 parties, CITES uses a series of lists to regulate trade in approximately 35,000 plant and animal, with over 900 of these deemed too vulnerable for any commerce.

Demand for CITES-prohibited goods has soared in recent years in some APEC economies, with rhino horn fetching between US$20,000 to 50,000 in certain Asian markets, worth more than gold. African rhino and elephant populations will not long withstand current poaching rates, conservation agencies such as WildAid have warned, calling for urgent demand-reduction efforts.

The US is reportedly pushing to ensure that APEC’s work on forest and wildlife trade feeds into and supports similar measures sought after in ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks.

Oceans

Tuesday’s statement welcomes a declaration on the blue economy and ocean-related cooperation issued by APEC ministers at a meeting held at the end of August in Xiamen, China.

Dubbed the Xiamen declaration, the text sets out a series of actions and joint oceans-strategy for APEC members with a particular focus on four key priority areas. These include coastal and marine ecosystem conservation and disaster resilience, food security and food-related trade, marine science, technology and innovation, and the blue economy. (See BioRes, 5 September 2014)

The Xiamen declaration also calls for the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies and restraint from introducing new ones. APEC ministers in August also urged improved transparency and reporting of existing fisheries support programmes at the WTO. In addition, APEC members are encouraged to ratify an international instrument designed to tackle illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Ocean challenges abound worldwide, as waters acidify at unprecedented rates according to UN scientists, while some 29 percent of world fish stocks are over-fished. APEC economies face particular vulnerabilities in this respect, with consumption of fisheries products in the region 65 percent higher than the world average, and a crucial food source for many communities.

At the same time, APEC also accounts for 80 percent of global aquaculture production and more than 60 percent of capture fisheries production.

As with forest and wildlife trade, the US has also stated its desire to see parallel oceans policy measures incorporated into the TPP, particularly relating to illegal fishing and sustainable fisheries management.

ICTSD reporting. 

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