TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec16/04)
9 December 2016
Third World Network

No deal at EGA pluri talks, no date for resumption either
Published in SUNS #8370 dated  6 December 2016

Geneva, 5 Dec (Kanaga Raja) -- Participants negotiating a plurilateral Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) aimed at eliminating tariffs on a range of environmental goods failed to reach a deal on Sunday (4 December) following a week of intensive negotiations.

Negotiators ended the meeting to meet again, but with no date set or mentioned.

And with a new US administration headed by President-elect Donald Trump, who campaigned and won the White House on among other things a promise to follow a different trade policy, the proposed EGA, as other trade talks (at the WTO or regional) faces an uncertain future.

The eighteenth round of negotiations ran from Monday through Friday, with trade ministers and senior officials arriving on Saturday for the ministerial segment to try and conclude a deal by Sunday.

A ministerial press conference that was scheduled to take place at the WTO on Sunday afternoon was cancelled.

In a news item posted on its website, the WTO secretariat put a positive spin, and said:

"Progress made on Environmental Goods Agreement, setting stage for further talks: Ministers and senior officials from the 18 participants in the Environmental Goods Agreement (representing 46 WTO members) met in Geneva this weekend to work towards liberalising trade on a range of important environmental goods. Constructive talks were held and progress was made, but participants were not in a position to close the existing gaps at this point. The intensive discussions set the stage for further talks in the near future."


The participants negotiating the Environmental Goods Agreement are Australia; Canada; China; Costa Rica; the European Union (representing Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom); Hong Kong-China; Iceland; Israel; Japan; Korea; New Zealand; Norway; Singapore; Switzerland; Liechtenstein; Chinese Taipei; Turkey; and the United States.

According to information posted on the WTO website, the products involved in the negotiations are used in a variety of environmentally-related functions including: generating clean and renewable energy; improving energy and resource efficiency; reducing air, water and soil pollution; managing solid and hazardous waste; noise abatement; and monitoring environmental quality.

In a statement posted on the WTO website, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo urged participants "to show whatever flexibility they can to help conclude the deal."

A joint statement issued by US Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman and European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, the co-chairs of the EGA ministerial meeting over the weekend, said:

"As co-chairs of this weekend's EGA Ministerial, the United States and the European Union worked with all WTO members involved to achieve the broadest possible consensus through creative solutions to bridge the gaps in the negotiations.

"Many EGA participants engaged constructively and brought new contributions to the table. The Chairs issued documents designed to stabilize the text of the agreement and produced a revised products list that balances priorities and sensitivities. The participants will now return to capitals to consider next steps."

The joint statement gave no tentative dates or time horizon for any further talks.

During a meeting back in late August at the WTO, a tentative agreement was reached among the participants to accelerate the negotiations on the EGA on the basis of the revised draft list of 304 tariff lines circulated by the overall chair of the negotiations, Mr Andrew Martins of Australia (see SUNS #8305 dated 1 September 2016).

According to media reports, going into this latest round of negotiations, there were differences between the EU and China over the issue of bicycles, which is of offensive interest to China, while remaining of defensive interest to the EU.

Other outstanding issues of concern among the various participants included that of wood pallets and high-tech batteries, media reports said.

One participant in the EGA negotiations told journalists following the conclusion of the EGA Ministerial on Sunday afternoon that there has been no agreement on the list of products that would serve as the basis for the continuation of the work so far.

The consultations took place on two lists - the list put forward by the co-chairs of the talks (the US and the EU) which was not accepted by China, while China put forward another list, which was shorter.

None of them have been accepted as consensus for the continuation of the talks, said the participant.

An Associated Press news report has quoted Turkey's Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci as saying: "In the last seconds, China proposed a list that was not studied enough. Many countries, they have concerns about the list."

According to the news report, the minister also cited other concerns between Canada and New Zealand on one side and Japan and Chinese Taipei on the other over the issue of lumber.

According to trade officials, the Chinese list had some 231 products, while the co-chairs' list was an expanded one.

Some countries' priorities were other countries' red-lines, trade officials said, in reference to the lists. Concerns were voiced amongst others over consumer products and wood, trade officials added.

Speaking to journalists after the ministerial meeting broke up on Sunday afternoon, EU Trade Commissioner Malmstrom, referring to the revised list (by the co-chairs) that was presented earlier in the morning, said most countries thought they could live with (this list), but "very late in the process" came the Chinese list which "had a different point of departure" and made a lot of changes.

"All delegations had some of their red-lines moved in or moved out in a way that it was impossible to deal with in a couple of hours," she said.

Ms Malmstrom however said that everyone who came in is leaving with a clear determination to do this deal.

"This is important for the environment, for the climate, for our moral obligation to show that trade can deliver after the Paris and Marrakesh agreements (on climate change)."

"We can show that trade and environment can go hand in hand. They are not in opposition. We have a lot of things in common already. So we would just have to reflect upon this and come back and continue next year."

She noted that many countries have offensive and defensive interests and the list that was on the table on Saturday and some of the additions that were made with the US co-chair were welcomed by many delegations as a further way forward.

"So we have to reflect now what we can do. Well we couldn't make a deal today but we have to continue."

The Chinese list had commonalities with the original list but there were lots of differences, Ms Malmstrom said.

"Too many to be able to absorb them today."

The next step is that "we all go home, we reflect [and] report to our capitals ...".

She also said that all delegations agreed that this is a very important agreement and "we are committed to conclude this and we will reinforce our efforts next year."

Asked if there is a risk that the appetite for this type of agreement will diminish after January 20 when president-elect Donald Trump takes office, she said: "There is a risk of course. But it is very difficult to determine. We don't know very much about the incoming administration."

Ms Malmstrom pointed out that there is not even a nominee for the new USTR yet. "So it is very hard to judge. But we hope that the US will be on board of course." +