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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jan11/03)
21 January 2011
Third World Network

WTO Members hold talks on environmental goods and services
Published in SUNS #7068 dated 18 January 2011

Geneva, 17 Jan (Kanaga Raja) -- Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) held a round of negotiations last week on environmental goods and services, as well as on other issues including the relationship between WTO rules and multilateral environmental agreements.

The discussions were held at the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Environment, chaired by Ambassador Manuel A. J. Teehankee of the Philippines.

Two informal open-ended meetings of the Special Session were held on 10 and 14 January, with the rest of the week being devoted to "Room E" sessions (attended by about 40 delegations) on various issues.

The negotiations on reducing or eliminating tariffs on environmental goods and services are taking place pursuant to Article 31 (iii) of the Doha Declaration of 2001.

Article 31 paragraph (iii) states that with a view to enhancing the mutual supportiveness of trade and environment, Ministers agree to negotiations, without prejudging their outcome, on the reduction or, as appropriate, elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services.

According to trade officials, with respect to environmental goods, Members examined various categories of products, including air pollution control, renewable energy, waste management and water treatment, environmental technologies and carbon capture and storage.

High importance was given by Members to the first three categories of products, namely, air pollution control, renewable energy and waste management and water treatment.

According to trade officials, the discussions highlighted the need for Members to work on a more focussed and reduced list of environmental goods. There are currently 409 products on the table.

Also highlighted was the need to go into more technical discussions to clarify the environmental rationale of a product and understand what non-tariff barriers (NTBs) could be attached to it.

Trade officials said that there were still disagreements among Members as to the definition of an environmental good.

Some Members including India, Brazil and Argentina are advocating the single-use definition. On the other hand, trade officials pointed out that other Members including the United States, the European Union, Japan, Norway and Saudi Arabia do not see any problem with multiple-use products as long as they have some environmental benefit.

Ambassador Teehankee reminded Members that certification could be one way of resolving this issue.

Currently, there are three proposals on the table on how to approach this negotiation - the list approach, the project approach and the request/offer approach. However, there is no consensus on any of these three proposals.

According to trade officials, some Members including Mexico, Singapore and Mauritius are currently working on a hybrid approach combining all the three proposals.

This move has been welcomed by Members as a concrete way of moving forward in the negotiation, said trade officials.

As regards the issue of environmental services, trade officials said that Members have agreed that this issue was important and should be addressed. However, so far, no concrete proposal has been tabled on this issue.

Members said that discussions in the Special Session of the Council on Trade in Services would be useful. They however stressed that the Committee on Trade and Environment had a clear mandate on this issue.

According to trade officials, Australia proposed a working method to tackle this issue which will be further developed and discussed at the next meeting.

Members also highlighted the importance of special and differential treatment, technical assistance, transfer of technology and capacity-building, said trade officials.

Several other issues were also discussed during the week.

With respect to the relationship between the WTO rules and multilateral environmental agreements, under Article 31 (i) of the Doha Declaration, the discussions focussed on national coordination, technical assistance, capacity-building, special trade obligations set out in multilateral environmental agreements and dispute settlement.

Article 31 paragraph (i) states that with a view to enhancing the mutual supportiveness of trade and environment, Ministers agree to negotiations, without prejudging their outcome, on the relationship between existing WTO rules and specific trade obligations set out in multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). The negotiations shall be limited in scope to the applicability of such existing WTO rules as among parties to the MEA in question. The negotiations shall not prejudice the WTO rights of any Member that is not a party to the MEA in question.

With regards to collaboration between the WTO and multilateral environmental agreements' Secretariats, as set out in Article 31 (ii) of the Doha Declaration, trade officials said that Members are well advanced in this area and are ready to move on to text-based negotiations.

Article 31 paragraph (ii) states that with a view to enhancing the mutual supportiveness of trade and environment, Ministers agree to negotiations, without prejudging their outcome, on procedures for regular information exchange between MEA Secretariats and the relevant WTO committees, and the criteria for the granting of observer status.

[In his report to the Trade Negotiations Committee for its stocktaking exercise last March - TN/TE/19 - the Chair noted that discussions under Paragraph 31 (ii) are at a slightly more advanced stage. Members have identified elements drawn from the proposals on the table that could be included in an outcome. Several of these elements have already garnered broad support from the membership.

[For instance, the Chair had reported that with respect to information exchange, concrete suggestions were put forward regarding MEA information sessions to be held by the Committee on Trade and Environment, document exchange, and future collaboration in the context of technical assistance and capacity-building activities. As regards the issue of observer status, the Committee considered some criteria that could guide WTO committees in their consideration of requests for observer status by MEAs.

[The Chair had however noted in his report last March that there are still some outstanding issues that will require further consultations. One of them relates to the proposal that as part of the outcome under Paragraph 31(ii), observer status be automatically granted to a number of MEAs who have taken part in the work of the Committee on Trade and Environment.]

As to the work ahead, trade officials said that the Chair will be conducting small group consultations at the end of January and the beginning of February 2011. Another week of negotiations is envisaged for mid-February. +

 


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