Australia is courting new controversy over the apparent refusal by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s office to include reference to a new push to liberalise trade in environmental goods such as solar panels in the G20 agenda.
The move has upset major trading partners, the US in particular, and continues the refusal of the PM’s office, which has carriage of the G20 talks, to include climate change and other environmental issues.
In Geneva this week, 14 nations and regional groups announced they had begun negotiations that could put an end to trade tariffs for environmental goods such as solar PV modules, which have been the subject of tit-for-tat tariffs between China, the US and the EU, and is the subject of a new anti-dumping investigation in Australia.
The 14 national and regional groups comprise China, the EU and the US, as well as Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada and South Korea.
The total value of such trade is $1 trillion. The agreement covers 54 products.
“Over the years the EU has been at a forefront in protecting the environment and fighting against climate change,” said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told a news conference in Geneva.
“This initiative is an excellent example how trade policy can positively contribute to the global objective of sustainable development, i.e. facilitating access to clean energy and rapid urbanisation process.
Sources close to the talks said Australian is trying to stop this initiative being taken up or welcomed in the G-20 meeting in Brisbane.
Australia is already resisting demands from the US and the EU to include climate change on the agenda of the G20, arguing that it is not an “economic” issue.
It is also seen as an attempt to avoid scrutiny of its own climte policies, which have been to dismantle the carbon price, and attempt to dismantle other initiatives and institutions such as the renewable energy target, the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
This has infuriated US and EU officials, and mystified others, and lead many to question whether Australia’s decisions will make the G20 largely irrelevant.
Ironically, the environmental trade discussions include many good included in bliateral free trade agreements. This actually includes leaves countries such as Australia open to suits for damages if they backflip on policy positions such as the renewable energy target.
Ironically ret etc moves on renewables and investment might benefit from the mindless enthusiasm to sign free trade agreements with isds provisions. if policy changes and an investor loses, they can sue for damages (unlike an aust co/sovereign immunity). Ironic eh?
The countries involved in talks on the Environmental Goods Agreement account for nearly 90 per cent of world trade in such goods.
“Above and beyond the economic benefits that enhanced trade in environmental goods will deliver, we remain conscious of the positive role that trade can play in environmental protection, said Director-General Roberto Azevêdo.
“The topic of environmental protection is of utmost importance in the WTO and the liberalization of environmental goods is also a significant element of negotiations under the Doha Development Agenda.”
US trade representative Michael Froman said eliminating tariffs on the technologies can make environmental goods cheaper and more accessible for everyone, “making essential progress toward our environmental protection and trade policy goals.”.
The Alliance of the Sustainable Energy Trade Initiative (SETI Alliance) said trade measures had been very disruptive and long lasting.
“It’s a very violent instrument,” Peter Brun, managing director of SETI Alliance told PV Tech.
“The logic behind this [process] is to drive down tension in the sector; it’s been rising and has reached a high-level following a number of trade defence and anti-dumping cases and disputes at the WTO. That’s not what we need. This will make a major contribution to scaling that back.”