By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is pressing China and other Asia Pacific economies to agree at a leaders meeting in November to reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade in environmental goods like wind turbines and solar panels, a U.S. official said on Monday.
"This is an issue that APEC has been talking about for a number of years and this year we're trying to actually see if we can get economies to commit to liberalize their regime," Wendy Cutler, assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan, Korea and APEC affairs, told Reuters.
"APEC economies, according to our statistics, account for 60 percent of trade in this sector. It's a natural sector, with lots of commercial benefits, environmental benefits, economic benefits, for these economies to focus on," Cutler said.
She and Kurt Tong, the senior U.S. official for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, spoke by telephone from San Francisco, where representatives from the 21 member economies wrapped up about 10 days of talks in preparation for the upcoming summit in Honolulu.
Proposals to reduce barriers to trade in environmental goods and services such oil remediation, water treatment and sewage treatment have kicked around international forums for years, but no real talks have begun.
"We're trying to get the APEC economies to recognize that trade liberalization in this sector is important and then work together to see what we could do to provide momentum to getting economies to reduce their tariffs, eliminate their tariffs and get rid of non-tariff measures," Cutler said.
She emphasized, however, that APEC itself is not a negotiating forum so talks on reducing the trade barriers would happen elsewhere. She was not specific, but a push from APEC members could lead to negotiations on an environmental goods and services pact within the World Trade Organization.
THREE MAIN U.S. THEMES
Tong said steps to foster "green growth" and address global climate change were one of three main U.S. themes for the year, along with reducing regulatory barriers and pushing APEC closer to its long-term goal of regional free trade.
"We feel like things are going pretty well, in fact quite well," Tong said, adding that senior officials will be working hard over the next 48 or so days to put the finishing touches on the leader's statement for the mid-November meeting.
An important aspect of the green growth agenda is a push among APEC members to reduce and eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, Tong said.
There will be a paper released in Honolulu outlining the extent of the subsidies and an "outcome which describes what APEC is going to do about it," he said.
In the regulatory area, the push is toward a set of best practices that encourage countries to develop a coordinating body to assess government regulations for unexpected impacts, such as the role the White House Office of Management and Budget plays in the United States.
"We're not saying you have to do what we do. What we're encouraging them to do is to avoid the situation where individual ministries put out regulations and ... there's no overall system where people are looking to make sure they make sense and are efficient," Cutler said.
FREE TRADE AREA OF THE ASIA PACIFIC
The United States also hopes for progress toward a long-envisioned Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.
APEC has identified several different "pathways" toward its goal of regional free trade by 2020, including current talks on proposed Transpacific Partnership pact between the United States and eight other APEC members.
APEC trade ministers agreed earlier this year to develop plans by November to promote market-based innovation, increase the efficiency of supply chains and encourage small- and medium-sized enterprises to conduct more international trade.
Another focus will be on food security, with the United States eager to shore up previous APEC statements against the use of export restraints, Tong said.
Cutler said the meeting could make progress on a number of lower-profile, but still important issues.
Those range from reducing barriers to trade in remanufactured goods to waiving tariffs and other border taxes on small shipments of about $200 or so in value, a move that would help many small businesses, she said.