By Doug Palmer
August 3, 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. business groups frustrated with the slow pace of nearly 8-year-old world trade talks urged the Obama administration on Monday to remove negotiations on environmental goods and services from the Doha round and pursue them separately.
"We don’t think that Doha should hold this particular initiative hostage," Jeremy Preiss, vice president and chief international trade counsel for United Technologies Corp, told reporters.
The National Foreign Trade Council and eight other business groups wrote to President Barack Obama to urge him to "use all possible channels" to pursue an agreement on reducing barriers to trade in environmental goods and services, even if that means going outside the Doha round.
The organizations hope developed and developing country leaders will back the idea at the Group of 20 leaders meeting in Pittsburgh in late September.
That would require overcoming concern that removing the most promising areas from the world trade talks and pursuing them as separate agreements would drive "the final nails in the coffin of Doha," Preiss said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said the United States was "fully committed to obtaining agreement in the WTO (World Trade Organization) to eliminate trade barriers to environmental goods and services," but would continue working in other forums to advance the initiative.
A deal could open up U.S. export opportunities in areas ranging from wind turbines to replacement parts for existing power plants to "smart meters" needed for more efficient electricity grids, said Tim Richards, managing director of international energy policy for General Electric Co.
The biggest tariff and non-tariff barriers are in developing countries such as China, India and Brazil, but obstacles remain in some developed countries, he said.
Many in the U.S. business community worry the Doha negotiations will drag on and on, even though Obama and other leaders recently agreed on a new deadline to finish by the end of 2010.
Pushing for a separate environmental goods and services pacts would complement international efforts to reach a new treaty in December to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, the business groups said.
It also meshes with Obama’s hope of transforming the United States into a "low-carbon" economy by creating new green technology jobs that reduce dependence on foreign oil.
A "critical mass" of countries, including China, must participate for talks to succeed, Preiss said.
Negotiations could take place in the Organization for Economic Cooperation or some other forum and be brought back to the World Trade Organization once a deal is struck so other countries could join, he said.
One task negotiators face is deciding the exact list of goods and services covered by the pact.
Brazil, for example, would like ethanol to be part of the any deal, but that is expected to be strongly opposed by the United States which guards its market with a hefty tariff.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Sandra Maler)