Progress Slows As EGA Negotiators Slog Through Most Sensitive Items

Negotiations on a World Trade Organization plurilateral Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) are slowing as the debate over a final list of goods focuses on the most sensitive products for members, according to sources in Geneva and the European Commission.

To grapple with this, EGA negotiators at the 12th round of talks -- held from March 2-4 -- devised a rough negotiating schedule through June and have committed to concluding the agreement in 2016, the sources said.

According to those sources, negotiators have floated the idea of discussing tariff phaseouts alongside the draft product list as a way to assuage members' concerns over protecting their domestic industries while ending up with an ambitious and environmentally credible agreement. One Geneva source said the inability to break through on the most sensitive issues caused negotiators to miss their informal deadline for presenting a final list by the December 2015 Nairobi ministerial, and that the talks have taken on less urgency since that deadline passed.

That source and others said negotiators were looking at phaseout periods similar to those used in the Information Technology Agreement (ITA). The ITA features four tariff elimination phaseout categories: immediate, three years, five years and seven years. The seven-year phaseout period is supposed to be reserved only for exceptionally sensitive items.

One Geneva source said a “significant” amount of progress on the draft list was made in the 12th round. He said this mainly involved determining whether less sensitive goods would stay on the list, but did not touch the most sensitive products. This must occur before the talks can make major headway, he said.

This source said members had not yet reached a “high degree of convergence,” which former Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said on Dec. 14, 2015 had occurred leading up to Nairobi.

At the end of 2015, the draft EGA list consisted 340 goods, according to a March 11 European Commission readout of the 12th round of EGA talks.

The Geneva source did say, however, that there was convergence among EGA members on which goods negotiated as part of the ITA should be included in the draft final list of goods subject to tariff cuts, and which goods should be left off that list. All participants of the EGA negotiations are also members of the ITA.

Negotiators have also agreed in theory on including a review mechanism in the final agreement to add new products in the future. Members wanted to avoid a repeat of the situation that occurred when ITA negotiators sought to expand the list of goods covered under that agreement, which ultimately required countries to basically negotiate a second deal.

One Geneva source also said customs experts were expected in the 12th round to continue technical work relating to proposed ex-outs and characterized progress on that front as “considerable.” Ex-outs refer when only certain products falling under a given tariff line are liberalized under the deal.

European Commission and Geneva sources said negotiators plan to hold two more official rounds of talks by the end of June, with one in April and a second toward the end of May or early June. According to the commission readout, the April talks will be held during the week of the 18th.

The commission source said EGA negotiators plan to convene at “high-level political meetings [for example] in the context of the OECD or G20,” but one Geneva source said those meetings were still under discussion by members and much would depend on progress made up to that point. The commission readout also listed APEC as another example.

The OECD will hold its ministerial June 21-23 in Cancun, Mexico, while the G20 is scheduled to have a trade ministers meeting July 9-10 in Shanghai and a leaders meeting Sept. 4-5 in Hangzhou.

Last modified onThursday, 12 May 2016 15:52
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