25 Jan 2014

Free trade for green goods pledged

11:15 am on 25 January 2014

The world's biggest trading powers have unveiled a joint initiative to achieve global free trade in environment-related goods, as part of the fight against climate change.

The United States, European Union, China, Japan and several other developed economies said in a joint statement that the agreement would take effect once there is participation by a critical mass of members of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The WTO estimates that the global market in green goods, technologies and services - ranging from solar panels to wind turbines and water recycling plants - at some $US1.4 trillion annually.

The initiative gets round the WTO's requirement for unanimity on trade deals, and is in line with new WTO chief Roberto Azevedo's drive to break a decade-old deadlock in world trade negotiations by first tackling the most promising areas for agreement.

Last month, the WTO reached its first trade reform agreement at talks in Bali, potentially adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy, Reuters reports.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman said the signatories of the initiative jointly represented 86 percent of world trade.

"We are convinced that one of the most concrete, immediate contributions that the WTO and its members can make to protect our planet is to seek agreement to eliminate tariffs for goods that we all need to protect our environment and address climate change," he said.

However there was no mention of a date for an agreement to achieve global free trade in environmental goods and Mr Froman said the timetable would ultimately be determined by the negotiations themselves.

This was just the start of the process and governments now had to consult stakeholders, including the US Congress, before negotiations begin, he said.

Few developing nations were among the signatories with the exception of Costa Rica, which urged others to join the group. Trade experts said it was particularly encouraging that China was part of the initiative.

But some environment groups said including products like incinerators, steam generators, and centrifuges, used in the production of fossil fuels, sent the wrong message.