Image: European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom holds a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman
By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) – Europe’s trade negotiator blamed China on Sunday for scuppering a global environmental trade deal by submitting impossible late demands at World Trade Organization talks aimed at scrapping import tariffs on exports worth more than $1 trillion.
“China came in with their list, bringing in totally new elements of perspective, which was very late in the process,” European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told Reuters.
The change of U.S. president also puts a big question mark over the future prospects for a deal.
European resistance to Chinese bicycle imports has also been a stumbling block, although Malmstrom said bicycles had become totemic for China and nobody else, and the agreement went far wider, adding that the EU had “quite cheap bicycles already”.
Malmstrom was co-chair of the talks, which aimed to cut costs for environmentally beneficial goods by removing trade tariffs applied to them, with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who declined to comment as he left.
“Had that (China’s list) come earlier we could have worked on this. But now this made it impossible to find an agreement, we were too far away from each other,” Malmstrom said.
China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement that China had made great efforts to show the flexibility needed to effectively solve the participants’ core concerns, but the meeting failed due to “differences on key issues”.
U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke told reporters: “The United States worked hard to find a creative path to a successful EGA agreement. Unfortunately not all participants were ready to contribute to success.”
WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said it was disappointing that talks had not succeeded but many delegations were strongly committed to getting a deal and hoped for success in 2017.
Malmstrom said she had no idea what U.S. President-elect Donald Trump thought about environmental matters, but she hoped the United States would be “on board”. Any deal would need the backing of countries responsible for about 90 percent of the trade in the products, so a U.S. absence would kill the talks.
But the participants, who include Canada, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, have not yet decided which products should be part of the hoped-for Environmental Goods Agreement.
The discussion included 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.
(Editing by Jason Neely and Alexander Smith)
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