A new round of negotiations has been launched by 14 World Trade Organization member countries to accelerate the trade of environmentally preferable technologies. This effort builds on the 2013 initiative started by the Leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to explore opportunities in the WTO to reduce tariffs on a list of 54 “green goods” by the end of 2015. This sounds like a great plan until you look deeper and find wood products were not included in the APEC agreed list of environmental goods where member countries will cut tariffs to five percent or less.
The only non-equipment good in the APEC 54 list was bamboo flooring. The environmental benefit cited was “renewable bamboo-based products are substitutions of wooden necessities.” The list notes that “since bamboo is characterized by short growing cycle, these environment-friendly products can save a great deal of water, soil and air resources.” While, bamboo flooring is a great product, it isn’t the only renewable option available. This presented an excellent opportunity to tell the positive story of wood.
Our chance came when the Obama Administration signaled its intent in March to enter into the negotiations for the World Trade Organization (WTO) Environmental Goods Agreement and asked for public comments. IWPA, the National Association of Manufacturers and others urged the U.S. Trade Representative to consider wood from sustainably managed forests as a green good as it is a renewable resource with extremely low life cycle carbon emissions.
The ambitious Environmental Good Agreement brings together Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Chinese Taipei, the EU, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore and the US for a new international free trade agreement designed to accelerate the rollout of clean technologies. The objective is to deliver “global free trade in environmental goods” and work to tackle trade barriers. The future green goods agreement will be anchored in the WTO and based on its principle of Most Favored Nation.
Since the financial crisis, trade barriers are growing around the world, costing jobs, growth and economic opportunity domestically and abroad. The Green Goods discussions are a beacon in the direction of trade liberalization. While these discussions are in the early stages, we hope that that bamboo flooring won’t be the only natural product on the list.
One pending trade liberalization agenda item is the renewal of the expired GSP program. The Generalized System of Preferences promotes economic growth in the developing world by providing preferential duty-free entry for up to 5,000 products when imported from one of 127 designated beneficiary countries and territories. Congress didn’t renew it when it expired on July 31, 2013. Recently, the Obama Administration announced it would begin the process to remove Russia from the program. This action should remove an obstacle to Congressional renewal. Ukraine would benefit from reauthorization of the program as would the U.S. businesses that rely on this program. IWPA will continue to press for renewal.
If you have a chance, please drop a line of welcome to IWPA’s latest addition. We are excited to welcome Joe O’Donnell to our team as the new Manager of Government and Public Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org). He comes to us with 10 years of experience on Capitol Hill working for Senator Lugar.
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