Chinese bikes just one obstacle for WTO environmental trade talks
By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) – European resistance to China’s massive bicycle industry is just one potential stumbling block for environmental trade talks this weekend in Geneva, where World Trade Organization members could pave the way to scrap tariffs on exports worth over $1 trillion.
Trade ministers from the European Union, China and 16 other WTO members including the United States and Japan hope to agree a list of environment-related products that will have their import tariffs scrapped, cutting costs and boosting sales.
But trade officials say that there are still many objections to including many of the 300 or so specific products under discussion, and a deadline penciled in for Sunday is far from certain.
Japan is sensitive about putting wood on the list, China is resisting a U.S. bid to include turbines, and the EU is adamant that China’s massive over-capacity in bicycle production would swamp the European market.
“We’re not on a path to conclude a deal,” said one trade official involved in the talks, adding that failure of the negotiations would be “China’s fault”.
The same official said an ominous sign was that China was sending a vice minister rather than Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng, a possible signal that it didn’t expect a deal at the meeting.
“You can’t have the most controversial demands and not send your best striker to the match,” the same official said.
China is also asking to phase in some of the tariff reductions over up to 15 years, at odds with its message that it is a global leader on climate change, he said.
The discussion includes products for clean and renewable energy, energy efficiency, controlling air pollution, managing waste, treating waste water, monitoring the quality of the environment, and combating noise pollution, the WTO said.
But the biggest question mark hanging over the negotiation may be the future of U.S. trade and environmental policy after Donald Trump takes over the White House in January.
A WTO spokeswoman said that even if this weekend’s negotiation successfully comes up with an agreement and a list of environmental goods, the participants will still need to come back in the new year to approve the phase out of tariffs.
That puts any deal at the mercy of the incoming U.S. administration, and trade diplomats say they have no idea what to expect. Trump has not yet named his pick to take over as U.S. Trade Representative from the current USTR Michael Froman, who is expected to attend this weekend’s negotiation in Geneva.
(Additional reporting by David Lawder in Washington; editing by Ralph Boulton)