International trade has become one of the latest fronts for the Obama administration to tackle climate change. A new round of negotiations has been launched by 14 World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries to accelerate the trade of environmentally preferable technologies. This effort builds on the 2013 initiative started by the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to explore opportunities in the WTO to reduce tariffs on a list of 54 “green goods” by the end of 2015.

“The launch of the Environmental Goods Agreement underscores environmental protection on all fronts,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement, noting that the U.S. exported $106 billion in goods such as turbines, solar panels and filters to treat wastewater in 2013.

This sounds like a great plan until you look deeper and find wood products were not included in the APEC agreed list of environmental goods where member countries will cut tariffs to five percent or less.

The only non-equipment good in the APEC 54 list was bamboo flooring. The environmental benefit cited was “renewable bamboo-based products are substitutions of wooden necessities.” The list notes that “since bamboo is characterized by short growing cycle, these environment-friendly products can save a great deal of water, soil and air resources.” While, bamboo flooring is a great product, it isn’t the only renewable option available. This presented an excellent opportunity to tell the positive story of wood.

Our chance came when the Obama Administration signaled its intent in March to enter into the negotiations for the WTO Environmental Goods Agreement and asked for public comments. IWPA, the National Association of Manufacturers and others urged the U.S. Trade Representative to consider wood from sustainably managed forests as a green good as it is a renewable resource with extremely low life cycle carbon emissions.

The ambitious Environmental Good Agreement brings together Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Chinese Taipei, the EU, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore and the U.S. for a new international free trade agreement designed to accelerate the rollout of clean technologies. The objective is to deliver “global free trade in environmental goods” and work to tackle trade barriers. The future Green Goods agreement will be anchored in the WTO and based on its principle of Most Favored Nation trading preferences.

Since the financial crisis, trade barriers are growing around the world, costing jobs, growth and economic opportunity domestically and abroad. The Green Goods discussions are a beacon in the direction of trade liberalization. While these discussions are in the early stages, we hope that that bamboo flooring won’t be the only natural product on the list.

Today, there is greater green building recognition for wood products, new wood technology for better wood fiber utilization, and new markets and applications for wood. Wood is preferred by the consumer for building material, design and consumer products.

There are multiple global benefits of market expansion for sustainable wood and wood products including the health and future of the world’s forests depends through increased forest volumes, better forest management, and economic vitality in those communities surrounding the forests. 

Wood is the Ultimate Green Good. Our U.S. leaders and the WTO should recognize the tremendous opportunity it offers us.

Cindy Squires is Executive Director for the International Wood Products Association, the leading international trade association for the North American imported wood products industry, representing companies and trade associations engaged in the import of hardwoods and softwoods from sustainably managed forests

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