Early in May envoys from the 17 WTO members negotiating parties to the EGA met in Geneva for the sixth round of talks to lower tariffs in a yet to be agreed list of green goods. The ambition of negotiators is having a finalised list of goods and a text of the agreement ready by the Tenth Ministerial Conference to be held in December 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya.
In acknowledgement to the estimation that the 17 negotiating parties concentrate above 85% of global trade in environmental goods, and being negotiated on a “plurilateral” format in the margins of the WTO, the intention is to finalise the EGA in an open-MFN manner. This means that once having enough WTO “critical mass” the benefits arising from the final agreement would be in principle extendable to the 161 (and counting) WTO members, without non-negotiating parties’ obligation to reciprocate.
During the sixth round negotiators undertook to complete a first revision of the 650-odd list of tariff lines compiling hundreds of green products nominated by the parties. Negotiators had the opportunity to signal concerns and express preliminary support to product nominations classified under ten categories which include air pollution control, environmental remediation and clean-up, waste water management and water treatment – among other. Moving forward, through these revisions the group will have to agree by consensus on a final list of products for inclusion in the final agreement.
The change in modality this round accommodated follow-up questions on the environmental merits of some nominations. In order to tackle on the enormous amount of work arising from custom classification issues, ex-outs and other technical clarifications needed, engagement will continue throughout ahead of the June round. Much of the bilateral or otherwise group work will be carried out intersessionally in Geneva, but will have to also involve close collaboration with customs officials and technical bodies in parties’ capitals.
One large developing country party to the talks put forward the issue of special and differential treatment provisions suggesting to build in flexibilities for developing countries such as drawing up a separate sensitive list for these members or allowing those to benefit of longer staging times for tariff elimination. All these are ideas that the group is yet to discuss. Outreaching to other potential developing country participants and maintaining a focus on the environmental credibility of the talks was an issue that received outright support.
Mid-week through the round works, in line with the group’s emerging tradition delegates had the opportunity to unwind in a social function. This time around, it was the pleasure of the Israeli delegation — in the spirit of helping negotiations whichever way possible – to organise an informal gathering. In addition to being a great opportunity to introduce EGA delegates to wines and other special delicacies from Israel, a sunny and warm evening set the mood for lively transversal conversations with Lake Geneva and the French Alps in the background.
The next two rounds will be held from 15-19 June and 27-31 July in Geneva, and it is expected that will advance the detailed revision of the compilation list. After carrying out this meticulous exercise, the Chair of the EGA negotiations Mr Andrew Martin (Counsellor, Australia) could be entrusted with a role to identify product support and finalise the list. However, many process-related aspects have not been defined by the group.
Given the interest expressed in the EGA works by several other WTO members EGA parties agreed to hold an outreach session during the June round. With the recent accession of Turkey EGA members now include: Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, the EU, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, and the US.