MEP Alessia Mosca on why the EU should stick to a high environmental ambition in EGA talks.
When negotiations for the Environmental Goods Agreement were launched in July 2014, the seventeen parties* to the talks made it their duty to remove trade barriers goods that are considered crucial for environmental protection and climate change mitigation.
Building on an original APEC list consisting of 54 goods considered environmentally friendly, the negotiations set a very ambitious target. In the year that followed the launch of negotiations the list rapidly rose to around 500 products. Approximately a year ago, both the European Commission and the other governments involved were optimistic about the deal, envisaging a closing by the end of 2015, also in view of the COP 21 in Paris and the WTO Ministerial in Nairobi that took place at that time.
Unfortunately, since then things have not gone in the right direction. National interests took precedence over the environmental objectives, and a number of products have been removed from the list, not because of their impact on climate change but because of the potential damages they could have on the economic situation of some of the negotiating parties. The list now under discussion contains slightly more than 300 goods, and it tends to avoid the inclusion of the most environmentally beneficial goods.
Nevertheless, we are currently witnessing a strong political push to close the deal – reaffirmed by a joint declaration signed by the competent ministers in the framework of the G-20 in China back in September. Indeed, a happy conclusion of the EGA by the end of this year could mean that the international community is able to conclude a plurilateral agreement, which, to top up this success, would also have a positive impact on the environment. This would show the nice face of trade policy.
From the European Parliament’s point of view, it is not difficult to identify a series of risks to the talks going forward.
Firstly, as it has been already underlined on various occasions, the lack of a clear definition of what is a ‘green good’ can be seen as the original sin of the negotiations, which have been conducted without clear environmental guidelines.
Secondly, as recently confirmed by some of the negotiators, the actual debate is focused solely on the effects that a final product may have on the environment. It does not take into account the production process of the product, which can be very detrimental to the environment.
Thirdly, both services and non-tariff barriers are excluded from the negotiations, and in this case the risk is to create an unbalanced business situation, in which European industries may face other types of obstacle when trying to enter some foreign markets that would not be experienced by foreign investors coming into the European market.
All in all, the driving reasons of the Environmental Goods Agreement negotiations are fully in line with the interest of the European Parliament and the EU. The potential of an eventual deal could be extremely positive. For these reasons, especially in this very crucial phase, the European Commission should be strong enough to convince our partners to take seriously into account environmental concerns and to have the political courage to proceed to the end game of the negotiations only if there will be some serious improvement in the general attitude around the deal.
Alessia Mosca is an MEP from Italy (S&D). She is rapporteur of the European Parliament’s monitoring group of the Environmental Goods Agreement negotiations currently ongoing in the World Trade Organization.
*The following WTO members are involved in the EGA talks: Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Taiwan, the European Union, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, United States, Israel, Turkey and Iceland.