On April 2, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman requested that the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) conduct investigations concerning two matters relevant to the negotiation of a WTO Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA): (1) the economic impacts on U.S. companies (producing "like or directly competitive products") and U.S. consumers of the United States "providing duty-free treatment for imports of environmental goods from all U.S. trading partners;" and (2) the estimated value of U.S. imports and exports of these products, likely U.S. export markets, and applied and bound tariff rates in those markets. Ambassador Froman requested that the ITC focus on a list of hundreds of specific products, including palm oil, wind turbines, lithium-ion batteries, and solar panels.
The ITC will administer a relatively quick process for soliciting input for its investigations. Specifically, the ITC will hold a public hearing in relation to the first investigation on May 14, 2014. (Requests to appear at the hearing, as well as any pre-hearing written submissions, must be filed no later than May 6, 2014.) Interested parties may also provide written submissions with respect to the first investigation by May 19, 2014 and with respect to the second investigation by July 1, 2014. The ITC will provide the two reports to USTR on August 4 and October 6, respectively.
USTR will conduct a separate, but similarly quick, public consultation process of its own. In particular, interested parties may submit comments to USTR regarding their negotiating priorities by May 5, 2014 and USTR will hold a public hearing on June 5, 2014. (Interested parties wishing to testify at this hearing must also notify USTR by May 5, 2014.) USTR has requested information regarding: (1) specific products that the United States should seek to include in the negotiations; (2) environmental uses and benefits of such products; (3) other countries that are significant producers or consumers of environmental goods; and (4) how to ensure that an agreement remains relevant.
On January 24, 2014, the United States and 13 other WTO Members announced their intention to negotiate an EGA, which would be a plurilateral agreement under the auspices of the WTO. These countries further indicated that they planned to negotiate on the basis of a list of 54 products identified in September 2012 by the countries that make up the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, though they also indicated openness to broadening the list of covered products. The EGA negotiations would be open to additional WTO Members willing to pursue the core objective of tariff elimination across a wide range of environmental goods.
On March 21, 2014, the Obama Administration formally notified the U.S. Congress that it intends to enter the EGA negotiations. This notification triggers a 90-day "consultation and layover" process, in which the Executive Branch consults with the Congress, trade advisory committees, and the public concerning the priority environmental goods as to which to seek tariff elimination and other elements of the U.S. negotiating strategy. On June 20, once the 90-day period has run, the United States will be able to participate in the EGA negotiations.