Trade can help spread environmentally friendly technologies, but if the products we’re trading harm the environment, everyone loses.
Today, a group of World Trade Organization (WTO) countries including the United States, the European Union, Australia, and Canada, launched a new set of negotiations to eliminate tariffs on a set of supposedly environmentally beneficial products.
According to a statement put out by the countries involved in the initiative, the negotiations will build on the work of the 21 countries that make up the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In 2012, these 21 countries agreed to reduce or eliminate tariffs by the end of 2015 on a list of 54 "environmentally beneficial" products. The theory is that if governments reduce or eliminate tariffs, the products will be more frequently traded.
While the APEC commitment was non-binding and not legally enforceable, a WTO agreement on environmental goods and services, if one is reached, would be.
So, it sounds like a good thing, right? Well, while the goal of increasing use of and trade in environmentally beneficial products is certainly noble, I have serious concerns about the approach taken up by APEC, and now the WTO.
In fact, if you dig into the list of products whose tariffs would be reduced or eliminated—the starting point for the WTO negotiations—you'll see that many would actually harm the environment.