Reuters
September 07, 2012

Asia-Pacific Forum to Cut Import Duties for Green Technologies

Asia-Pacific nations have made a breakthrough in promoting trade in green technologies, and the United States is pressing ahead with efforts to carve out a regional free-trade zone, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

Speaking before a summit of leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Demetrios Marantis, the deputy U.S. trade representative, said the group had agreed to cut import duties on technologies that can promote economic growth without endangering the environment.

“This is really a significant achievement, in that it shows how APEC can lead,” Mr. Marantis said in an interview after ministers finished their preparations for the summit meeting Saturday and Sunday in the Russian port of Vladivostok. “It allows us to accomplish the twin goals of liberalizing trade and green growth.”

Ministers agreed on a list of 54 green technologies that will be subject to import duties of 5 percent or less beginning in 2015, following through on a commitment made by leaders at the last APEC summit in Honolulu a year ago.

The list includes equipment used in generating power from renewable energy sources like the sun, wind and biomass; treating waste water; recycling; and environmental monitoring.

Officials have described the clean technology initiative as a main summit “deliverable” for APEC, a consensus-based group that focuses on economic issues and links rising nations led by China with advanced economies like that of the United States.

APEC represents 40 percent of the world’s population, 54 percent of its economic output and 44 percent of its trade. Exports within the group are expected nearly to triple over the next decade to $14.6 trillion, while exports to non-APEC countries will double to $5.6 trillion, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Next year, APEC will tackle so-called local content requirements — in effect, import restrictions. The United States views the requirements as impediments to trade.

The diverse nature of the Pacific-Rim economies — which unlike the debt-stricken economies of Europe are showing relatively strong growth — has led some APEC countries to join Washington in pushing for a new free-trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Mr. Marantis said trade ministers from nine nations participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks had met in Vladivostok and affirmed their determination to move ahead at negotiations to be held next week in Leesburg, Virginia.

The Leesburg talks will be the 14th round in a Trans-Pacific Partnership process that was initiated by APEC leaders at a summit meeting two years ago.

Negotiators will seek to iron out further details of a 29-chapter multilateral free-trade deal.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is made up of: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Canada and Mexico are due to join the group in October.

Mr. Marantis said the group was “working together to create a high-standard, 21st century trade agreement that addresses a lot of problems that exporters are facing in a way that will grow jobs and create new opportunities for exporters.”

There are no deadlines for completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, but Mr. Marantis said negotiators were seeking to complete the bulk of their work next year.

“Substance will drive timing — that’s what’s really important,” Mr. Marantis said. “If you look at how much progress we’ve been able to make in such a short amount of time, we’re working to wrap up as much as possible over the course of 2013.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership ties in with President Barack Obama’s goal of doubling American exports within five years of his election in 2008. It has been described as the biggest free-trade pact since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, is not a party to the process, while the APEC summit host, Russia — which has only just joined the World Trade Organization — says it is not ready to look at joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Citizens Trade Campaign, a U.S. umbrella group, has criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership process as overly secretive and has called demonstrations against the Leesburg talks, fearing that a free trade deal could result in the loss of American jobs.

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