WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States hopes to persuade China and other Asia-Pacific countries to agree on a deal to tear down barriers to trade in environmental goods and services when regional leaders meet next month in Hawaii, the top U.S. trade official said on Wednesday.
“What we’re pushing for is a voluntary commitment that would look at a basket of issues ... and commit to kind of a combined tariff rate of 5 percent,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told a business group.
“It’s one of those (initiatives) that President (Barack) Obama thinks just makes sense. Every country is looking for the next-generation technology in energy. We want to share that within the region” by facilitating trade, he said.
While Australia, New Zealand and some others support the U.S. push, some of the other 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are resisting, Kirk said, without identifying any holdouts by name.
A trade diplomat, speaking on the condition he not be identified, said China would prefer to negotiate the issue within the World Trade Organization, where any concessions it makes on environmental goods and services could be balanced by gains it makes in other areas.
A trade case filed by the U.S. arm of Germany’s SolarWorld against lower-priced solar modules and cells from China also threatens to create friction before of the Nov 12-13 summit, with the U.S. Commerce Department due to decide by November 9 whether to launch an investigation.
U.S. trade officials have expressed alarmed as well over reports Beijing is requiring foreign automakers to transfer cutting-edge electric car technology to participate in China’s market for “New Energy Vehicles.”
The United States wants to address that issue at this year’s high-level U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, which Kirk said on Wednesday would be held in China shortly after the APEC summit meeting.
Kirk said progress on a “green growth” agenda was one of the top U.S. priorities for the APEC summit along with reducing regulatory barriers to trade and strengthening overall trade and investment ties throughout the region.
“We’re putting great focus on the Asia-Pacific because that’s where the world’s most dynamic economies are expanding rapidly and creating significant opportunities to increase U.S. exports and jobs,” Kirk said.
The United States is negotiating a free trade pact known as the Transpacific Partnership with eight other APEC members — Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
Earlier this year, TPP countries set a goal of reaching the “broad outlines” of a deal by the Honolulu summit and Kirk told the business group that negotiators meeting this week in Peru were well on the way to meeting that target.
He also expressed hope a final agreement could be reached within the next 12 months, providing the most definitive timeline yet from a U.S. official.
The United States wants eventually to expand the TPP to all 21 members of APEC, fulfilling a longtime APEC goal of creating the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.
Business leaders urged the Obama administration to move ahead on other trade initiatives despite presidential and congressional elections in November 2012 that could make that politically difficult.
Buoyed by recent congressional approval of free pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said the United States should pursue a trade deal with the European Union and a multinational pact within the WTO to liberalize trade in services sectors such as banking, telecommunications and insurance.
Editing by Peter Cooney