April 01, 2006

WTO Negotiations Open Possibility of Defining Bicycles as Environmental Goods

Organizations promoting bicycle use at the international level may have a new avenue to do so—through the liberalization of trade in bicycles, bicycle parts and components, and bicycle accessories that could result from the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) current negotiations on environmental goods and services.

The mandate for these negotiations comes from the so-called Doha Development Agenda (DDA), issued by trade ministers at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, in November 2002.  Paragraph 31(iii) of the DDA calls for the reduction or elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services.  WTO ministers did not, however, define what constitutes an “environmental good”, so the negotiations have moved forward largely on the basis of lists of suggested goods by WTO member economies.

One sub-category of products is referred to as “environmentally preferable products”, or EPPs, deemed superior to close substitutes because of the way they are produced, used or disposed of.

At the end of 2004, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was asked by its member countries to prepare a study of EPPs, concentrating on products whose liberalization would benefit developing countries, either through improved environmental outcomes or increased trade in the product. The bicycle emerged as one of the three EPPs the OECD Secretariat chose to study in depth.  (A copy of the report may be found here).

In mid-2005, Switzerland, an OECD member country, submitted its own list of proposed environmental goods to the WTO, which included bicycles, bicycle parts and components, and certain accessories. The Swiss proposal has been met with mixed reactions by other member countries, many of which are represented in WTO negotiations by representatives from trade ministries who do not grasp the bicycle’s environmental relevance.  Others, usually from environment ministries, have generally been more supportive of the idea.

As of this writing, no definitive common list of environmentally goods has been agreed by WTO negotiators. There may still be an opportunity for bicycle advocates to tell their countries’ WTO delegates just how important it is to grant “environmental good” status to bicycles, parts and accessories.


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