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Treaty on "green goods" arouses mistrust

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By Carey L. Biron

"There is still no definition of what really constitutes an 'environmental good', and many of the products that are being considered are actually harmful to the environment": Ilana Solomon.

However, confusion persists regarding the real possibility or scope of negotiations on what is called the Environmental Goods Agreement. Environmental organizations expressed their skepticism about the process, which is carried out under the orbit of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“We think that increasing the trade in products beneficial to the environment, as well as their use, is very important. But we have very serious concerns about the strategy adopted by the WTO ”in this regard, said Ilana Solomon, director of the Responsible Trade Program of the Sierra Club, one of the most influential environmental organizations in the United States.

“This strategy refers to eliminating tariffs on a list of products that supposedly benefit the environment. But there is still no definition of what really constitutes an 'environmental good', and many of the products that are being considered are actually harmful to the environment, "he said.

The WTO talks take place between the United States, the European Union, China, Australia, Japan and others, around an initial list of 54 product categories, agreed in 2012 by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC, in English).

APEC countries aim to reduce tariffs on these products to less than five percent by 2015.

But the list includes many items that can be used positively or negatively for the environment, such as waste incinerators, centrifuges, gas turbines, sludge compactors and a wide variety of technical machinery.

The list also excludes poor countries, as only Costa Rica participates in negotiations mainly between industrialized and middle-income economies. "Poor countries are not likely to produce these goods," said Kim Elliott of the Washington-based Center for Global Development (CGD). "If they don't participate in the talks they will surely lose around the high tariffs, but they probably won't export much," he added.

The negotiations will also have consequences for emerging national industries.

“A developing country may want… its own industry of…. solar panels or wind turbines. But low or no tariffs could impede their ability to develop indigenous national renewable energy industries, ”said Solomon of the Sierra Club. The repercussions

The WTO does not include climate change in its actions. But since the mid-1990s, the multilateral organization claims to work to establish "a clear link between sustainable development and disciplined trade liberalization, in order to ensure that market opening goes hand in hand with environmental and social objectives." . These negotiations are due in part to the push of the United States. In 2013, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would engage in negotiations to "help more countries bypass the dirty development phase and join a low-carbon global economy." Washington's interest is shared by other supporters of expanding free trade. Multilateral trade negotiations made little progress in the past 20 years, so many hope that the link between these issues will boost the multilateral system. “Everybody, at least on paper, wants to do something about climate change. The idea is seen as a win-win situation, as useful to the trading system as it is to the planet, ”said Elliott, from CGD.

Of course, Washington's interest also revolves around increasing US exports, and as political pressure on climate change mounted, trade in green goods quickly became a major force.

Official calculations indicate that the value of this market doubled between 2007 and 2011, and that in 2013 it reached one trillion dollars. The United States' share has grown eight percent annually since 2009, reaching $ 106 billion in 2013.

The business interests of the United States and the rest of the industrialized countries show a strong interest in the negotiations. On Tuesday the 8th, about 50 business and trade associations wrote to WTO negotiators to express their "strong commitment" to their efforts.

The agreement "will further increase world trade in environmental goods, reducing the cost of environmental and climate challenges by eliminating tariffs, which can reach up to 35 percent," the associations noted.

"In addition to its intrinsic commercial importance and convenience, a well-designed agreement can act as a springboard for reducing tariffs and other trade barriers in other sectors and associated value chains," they added. Undercover liberalization

The US government may share this point of view. A recent letter from Michael Froman, Washington's top trade official, asked the Washington International Trade Commission to investigate the potential impact of trade liberalization on environmental goods, according to Solomon.

"In the absence of a universally accepted definition of‘ environmental good, ’I request that, for the purposes of its analysis, the Commission refer to the items on the list attached to this letter," Froman wrote at the time.

That 34-page list contains hundreds of items that are not on the APEC list, ranging from natural products (honey, palm oil, urea, coconut fibers, bamboo), technical (pipes and casings, of the types used for oil and gas extraction) and even apparently random (vacuum cleaners, cameras).

"This seems to suggest that this exercise is not about environmental protection, but rather about expanding the current free trade model, an underhanded attempt to liberalize a wide range of products," Solomon said.

Inter Press Service - IPS Venezuela


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