TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jun17/16)

29 June 2017

Third World Network

EGA participants call for stalled talks to resume again

Piblished in SUNS #8488 dated 23 June 2017

Geneva, 22 Jun (Kanaga Raja) -- A formal meeting of the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment on 20 June heard a number of participants in the stalled negotiations on the plurilateral Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) calling for the resumption of talks aimed at eliminating tariffs on a range of environmental goods.

According to trade officials, in their first public showing since the EGA talks stalled last December, some 11 of the 18 participants (involving some 46 WTO Members) in the EGA talks at the WTO spoke at the Committee meeting following an update by Australia, which is chairing the negotiations.

The United States, a participant in the EGA negotiations and which co-chaired the ministerial segment at the last round of talks that broke up last December after failing to agree on a final product list, however, did not speak on this issue at the Committee meeting.

The eighteenth round of negotiations on the Environmental Goods Agreement took place from 28 November to 2 December (Monday to Friday) last year, with trade ministers and senior officials arriving on 3 December (Saturday) for the ministerial segment to try and conclude a deal by 4 December (Sunday).

They however failed to reach a deal on that day, with negotiators ending the meeting to meet again, but with no date set or mentioned.

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.

A joint statement issued by then US Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman and European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, the co-chairs of the EGA ministerial meeting on 3-4 December, had 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 however gave no tentative dates or time horizon for further talks.

According to media reports, going into the eighteenth 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 had said.

Following the conclusion of the EGA Ministerial on 4 December afternoon, one participant in the EGA talks had said 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, and a shorter list by China.

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

Speaking to journalists after the ministerial meeting broke up on 4 December afternoon, EU Trade Commissioner Malmstrom, referring to the revised list (by the co-chairs) that was presented earlier in the morning, had 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 had said. (See SUNS #8370 dated 6 December 2016.)

At the Committee meeting on 20 June, Mr Andrew Martin of Australia, the chair of the EGA negotiations, said: "EGA ministers gathered in December to see if a consensus agreement on a final EGA product list was within reach. It was unfortunately not possible to meet a final conclusion."

"EGA members continue to take stock on the way forward for negotiations and call on others to consider joining," he added.

According to trade officials, many EGA participants then took the floor and called for talks to start up again, with some stressing the need for a swift conclusion to an agreement.

Japan said that it was "ready and seeking early resumption of negotiations," while Korea said it hoped "for the early resumption of EGA negotiations."

New Zealand highlighted the importance of reaching "an ambitious and timely outcome."

Chinese Taipei said it hopes to see an agreement "as soon as possible", adding that it stands ready to continue the work.

Hong Kong (China) reaffirmed its commitment to work with EGA participants "to achieve a meaningful outcome early."

Switzerland said it was "ready to come to the negotiating table as soon as possible". It urged other members to do the same soon.

According to trade officials, others highlighted their commitment to continue the negotiations on the EGA.

The European Union, which co-chaired the Ministerial segment during the talks last December, said it remains committed to concluding an ambitious and forward-looking EGA.

"The EU is committed to relaunching negotiations once circumstances allow us to do so and participants are ready for engaging," it said.

Norway in turn said that it "stands ready to engage in negotiations."

Citing the benefits of delivering on the EGA, Canada encouraged "renewed engagement from participants going forward."

Singapore and Turkey also expressed their support for the resumption of the EGA talks.

In the meantime, China said: "Common but differential responsibility is a core principle in the climate change talks and should be reflected in the outcome of the EGA negotiations."

It however affirmed that the EGA was important and could be a way for the WTO to contribute to addressing climate change.

Besides the United States, Costa Rica, Iceland, Israel, and Liechtenstein (all participants in the EGA talks), did not take the floor this time.

The Committee meeting also heard the WTO Secretariat briefing on the status of negotiations on disciplines on fisheries subsidies.

Norway was said to be preparing to submit a proposal. "We hope to have a consolidated draft text before the summer break," it said.

Norway maintained that doing so would put members on a good track for work in the autumn ahead of the 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December.

At present, there are four existing draft texts on fisheries subsidies: a joint proposal from New Zealand, Iceland and Pakistan; a proposal from the European Union; a proposal from Indonesia; and a proposal from a group of Latin American countries (Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay).

Besides these four draft texts, there are also two papers, one by the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), and the other by the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

In a related development, the ACP Group has circulated a revised paper on 20 June (TN/RL/GEN/182/Rev. 1) on principles and elements for concluding negotiations on fisheries subsidies rules in the WTO, in which it said that it intends to circulate a text proposal and looks forward to further engagement with Members toward a decision at the Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires this year. (See SUNS #8487 dated 22 June 2017 for details on the ACP paper.)

Meanwhile, the Committee also heard Canada provide a briefing on the status of separate negotiations on a plurilateral Fisheries Subsidies Agreement.

According to trade officials, Canada informed the Committee that a fifth round of talks is scheduled for the end of July.

Earlier rounds of talks had been held in January, March, and May and the fourth round is "currently underway."

Canada said that the group was working on developing disciplines on subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing as well on subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing.

Canada said that they were considering elements such as transparency and the form of the agreement.

It said that the plurilateral negotiations were "open to any WTO member willing to participate."

Canada maintained that this smaller group of negotiations was "complementary to the multilateral negotiations" and that "they did not believe that progress in one precludes progress in the other." +