GENEVA — Last-minute demands by China torpedoed global talks by 46 World Trade Organization members, including the U.S., European Union, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Turkey and Australia, to reach an accord to lower duties on trade in environmental goods, from clean water equipment to wind turbines, worth over $1 trillion a year.
Many of these technologies are also critical for the textile and apparel industry and used increasingly in plants to stem pollution by removing chemicals and other hazardous inputs from waste water, enhancing clean air and energy efficiencies in the workplace, and increasingly demanded by growing numbers of eco-sensitive consumers.
“Obviously, we are disappointed we couldn’t make an agreement,” Cecilia Malmström, EU Trade Commissioner told reporters shortly after the talks collapsed late Sunday.
Malmström, who co-chaired the ministerial talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, said after a revised list was proposed and expected to be approved, “very late in the process came the Chinese list, which had a different point of departure” and made a lot of changes.
Some trade experts viewed the 11th hour move by China in the closing stage of the two-day ministerial talks “as a political miscalculation.”
Wang Shouwen, China’s deputy minister of commerce, presented the set of demands not acceptable to the U.S., EU and many other participants. The Chinese list was described by some chief negotiators as “self-serving” as it removed things imported for cleaning technologies.
Things the Chinese list carved out included wind turbines, most pumps and valves, gas turbines and other technologies that reduce pollution, enhance clean water and air, and boost energy efficiencies.
Froman told participants the Chinese list included 35 of 36 products considered priorities for them, but only 15 of 33 products identified as a priority for the U.S., diplomats said.
Similarly, U.S. ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke told reporters, “unfortunately not all participants were ready to contribute to success.”
But Wang claimed China accounted for one-quarter of global imports of environmental goods and had shown flexibility in the talks.
Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, told WWD, “The failure this weekend to conclude a deal is a huge missed opportunity for the global economy and environment. In particular, China failed this weekend to put its money where its mouth is. Its inflexible stance this weekend and unwillingness to join the rest of the members in a clear landing zone undermines the rhetorical commitment to free trade Chinese President Xi made at the APEC leaders’ summit.”
“The American business community looks forward to working with the Administration and Congress and the other innovative economies that are part of the talks next year to emphasize the benefits of finalizing the EGA,” Colvin said.
The WTO in a statement said “participants were not in a position to close the existing gaps at this point. The intensive discussions set the stage for further talks in the near future.”
Roberto Azevedo, WTO director-general, urged participants “to show whatever flexibility they can to help conclude the deal.”
“This is not the usual kind of trade agreement, as it is focused on protecting a common global good: the environment,” he said. “The trading system should be in a position to make a positive and meaningful contribution towards tackling environmental degradation.”