Countries negotiating the World Trade Organization's plurilateral Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) are slated this week to continue discussions on the final product list, tariff phaseout periods and what should be done if trade among parties to the agreement dips below a "critical mass," according to Geneva sources.
The talks are set for April 19-22 in Geneva and are the 13th official round of negotiations. Geneva sources said the negotiations will resume on the final product list and that tariff phaseouts will simultaneously be discussed in order to placate some members' anxieties about their most sensitive products.
But one source said those products will not be intensely discussed this week, as they are being held back for the negotiating “endgame.” In addition, this source said the talks on tariff phaseouts would mostly take place on a bilateral basis. But another source said that at least one country is interested in advancing earnestly on product coverage, including on sensitive products.
Work by customs officials, including on technical matters such as ex-outs, has been suspended and will only continue when further progress is made on the product list, according to one Geneva source. That source said remaining ex-out issues will be brought to negotiators and are likely to be primarily discussed at plenary sessions. After the 12th round of EGA talks, sources said “considerable” progress had been made on the customs front. Ex-outs refer to when only certain products falling under a given tariff line are liberalized under the deal.
Geneva sources said negotiators are expected to continue discussing the critical mass issue, but one source was skeptical that the talks would focus on a proposal tabled by China at the last round of talks that produced widespread criticism from other countries. That proposal included a “snapback” mechanism, allowing members to immediately raise tariffs in products covered by the agreement if trade among them dipped below the so-called critical mass threshold.
Members have not agreed on what percentage of world trade in products covered by the EGA must occur to meet that threshold, but members most likely will coalesce around measures similar to those in the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) expansion deal struck in December 2015, Geneva sources have previously told Inside U.S. Trade.
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