WTO Negotiations on Environmental Goods: Ensuring a Meaningful Outcome for Developing Countries

By Sugathan, Mahesh | International Trade Forum, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview
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WTO Negotiations on Environmental Goods: Ensuring a Meaningful Outcome for Developing Countries


Sugathan, Mahesh, International Trade Forum


Negotiations on liberalizing trade in Environmental Goods and Services (EGS) began with the launch of the Doha Round. Paragraph 31(iii) of the Doha mandate, agreed by all WTO members in 2001, calls for a reduction or elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers on EGS.

Progress within WTO's Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE-SS) has been slow, The challenges arise from two sets of issues: what to liberalize (i.e., what goods could be defined as "environmental"); and how to liberalize (the actual modalities hi liberalization).

Failure to successfully conclude negotiations on agricultural and industrial goods has been prejudicial. Given the "single undertaking" nature of the Doha Round, many regard progress in these areas as essential ro catalyse movement in EGS negotiations,

What and how to liberalize?

Just what constitutes an environmental good remains unresolved. Relevant customs categories also contain products that have non-environmental uses. Often the same products can be used for environmental and nonenvironmental purposes.

Such "dual-use" issues led developing countries, such as Argentina and India, to propose restricting liberalization of these goods according to their "environmental end-use" in specific projects ("project/integrated" approaches) such as the Clean Development Mechanism. Proponents of liberalization (the so-called friends environmental goods") favoured a " hst approach", seeking tariff reductions on a list of 153 goods, mostly products used for air-pollution control, solid-waste management and wastewater treatment and renewable energy. Out of this '153' list, the US and EU informally proposed accelerated liberalization for a subset list of 43 climatefriendly goods.

A third approach - the "request offer approach" - was proposed by Brazil, whereby countries would request specific liberalization commitments from each other and extend tariff cuts equally to all WTO members. No resolution of the approach to be adopted has been achieved.

Recent developments

During the CTE-SS session m March 2010, Japan proposed vanous energyefficient products such as appliances and electric cars, Saudi Arabia proposed some natural gas-related derivatives. The Philippines is the only developing country outside the "friends" group to identify products o! trade interest including three categories: renewable energy; waste management, recycling and remediation; and others.

The Filipino submission was supported by some other South-East Asian countries, in particular on products such as solar panels and wind turbines

WTO developing country members have raised other issues such as non-tariff barriers and access to environmental technologies.

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