As reported in my last newsletter of 2015, the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) talks were sadly not in a position to deliver a first tariff result at the WTO’s Tenth Ministerial Conference (MC10) in December, despite initially targeting this as “un-official” milestone for the negotiations. Although many acknowledged it would be ambitious to land a trade deal in just 18 months, it could have correlated nicely with the historic climate result during the same month at the UN climate talks in Paris, France, and thus constituted an important contribution from the trade side to emissions-reduction efforts.
“Fantastic news from Paris! Congrats to all involved. Trade must play its role on climate change and support this historic agreement,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said on Twitter following the conclusion of the Paris climate agreement. So what now for the EGA, which could be an important part of this vision?
A statement in December from the Australian chair of the EGA signalled that “considerable progress has been achieved in eleven negotiation rounds over eighteen months...[n]egotiators have been working to refine the full list of nominations towards a final, agreed EGA list. There has been a high degree of convergence in many areas. Customs officials have also provided significant technical input, helping to ensure that the products on the final list are environmentally credible, and that the agreement is implementable and workable once it is put to the test at the border.”
In other words, negotiating parties seem to be not too far apart, and in a good place to reach an agreement soon. If this is true, it is certainly welcome news. As argued before, however, not having a clear external deadline places a big responsibility on negotiators not to let these talks drag.
Time is running short to produce a green tariff deal and show the world that the plurilateral format can effectively produce international trade agreements. 2016 will be absolutely decisive to demonstrate the value of, and maintain confidence in, this approach. It would be helpful if the Chinese government demonstrated leadership now in finalising the tariff negotiations under their G-20 presidency and no later than the G-20 leaders’ summit in September. We should also be mindful that this is election year in the US. If a decision is not taken before the presidential race kicks into high gear, there is a risk that the EGA negotiations could be significantly delayed, at least until end 2017.
From the SETI Alliance and its partners, members, and supporters let us really encourage EGA officials when they meet in early March to plan for an intensive spring and summer that leads to a tangible result in September! In order to aid deliberations, we have created a revised EGA timeline, see here. This is the new political “window of opportunity” that we encourage parties to work constructively towards. A year of wasted negotiations efforts, with the risk of gambling with the whole “raison d’être” behind the EGA, would be a great mistake.