Nations discuss lifting tariffs on environmental goods

A group of 14 nations and regions have launched international negotiations aimed at eliminating tariffs on "environmental goods," including such products as PV panels and solar water heaters.

Officials from meeting in Geneva on Wednesday announced the start of negotiations on the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA), which also includes removing duties on wind turbines, filters for wastewater treatment and dozens of other environmental goods. The countries participating in the negotiations include Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, the European Union, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United States.

In a joint statement, the governments noted that "urgent action" was needed to address challenges such as environmental protection and climate change.

"We will now engage in intensive negotiations, meeting regularly in Geneva, to discuss the substance of the agreement, including product coverage," the joint statement said. "We are committed to work towards the timely and successful conclusion of the agreement."

The statement added that an environmental goods deal could be extended to all members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) if a "critical mass" of the organization’s members agreed to participate.

The first stage of the talks, expected to conclude by the end of 2015, will focus on eliminating tariffs on environmental goods. To that end, the negotiations will build on a list of 54 environmental goods that was agreed to by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 2012. Future negotiations may tackle more complicated topics like environmental services, non-tariff barriers and government procurement.

"By eliminating tariffs on the technologies we all need to protect our environment, we can make environmental goods cheaper and more accessible for everyone, making essential progress toward our environmental protection and trade policy goals," said U.S. Trade Representative Peter Froman.

Peter C. Brun, managing director of the Sustainable Energy Trade Initiative (SETI) Alliance, also welcomed the announcement.

"An early breakthrough in international trade negotiations on environmental goods would serve as an important signal to the world of the need to remove unnecessary barriers to trade in the technologies that are meant to deliver important and affordable climate change solutions," he said.