Speech by SCED at Opening Plenary of EGA Ministerial Meeting in Geneva (English only)
Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Opening Plenary of Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) Ministerial Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland today (December 3, Geneva time):
Good morning Chairmen, Ministers and colleagues,
First of all, I would like to thank the European Union and the United States for hosting this meeting.
Like many others in the room, I have put aside other priorities back home and travelled a long way to get here, because I know at this critical juncture, it is incumbent on us to take the final steps to conclude this deal.
If we are to compare the negotiations with a long-haul flight, I would say our journey has not been easy.
Over the past two and a half years, we have been through 18 rounds of intensive negotiations, trying very hard to find landing zones. Notwithstanding the turbulences, we are now very close to our destination, but are we arriving on time where we want to be?
For Hong Kong China, the EGA is a long-awaited deal with great systemic, commercial and environmental value.
It is described by some as the first new international "formula agreement", representing a new approach to trade agreements that can supplement the Doha Round of negotiations. By virtue of the MFN (most-favoured-nation) principle, the benefits will be shared by all WTO (World Trade Organization) Members. Its conclusion will therefore be a major contribution to the multilateral trading system.
In commercial terms, the EGA will be boosting trade in environmental goods, which is currently worth around US$1 trillion annually and expected to more than double by 2020.
The reduction of tariffs on EGA products will also lower their costs, hence promoting the wider use of environmental products and complementing our environmental protection efforts.
It is clearly in everyone's interest to conclude the negotiations. The time is ripe, and Hong Kong China is ready for the end game.
All along, Hong Kong China has been advocating three outcomes: first, a final product list which is environmentally credible and relevant, capturing as many products as possible; second, complete tariff elimination for all these products; and third, implementation of the agreement within a reasonable time frame. Our position has not changed.
Having said that, we are mindful of the EGA being a living agreement which can be continuously improved over time. Without unduly compromising the level of ambition and credibility of the agreement, we are prepared to settle for what can realistically be achieved at this stage.
Apart from the product list, there are also important issues, such as critical mass and free riders. The concerns raised by Members are real and legitimate. We need to address these issues properly, and find solutions which are in line with WTO rules and principles.
I know that both in capitals and in Geneva, delegations have been redoubling efforts over the past few days to try to narrow gaps and achieve as much convergence as possible, so that we may have a less difficult job today and tomorrow. Let us all show political will, and work with maximum flexibilities and pragmatism to resolve the differences.
With the commitment from all of us, and in the collective spirit of constructive engagement, I am confident that we can make the deal happen.
I very much look forward to proudly announcing the conclusion of this ground-breaking pact with all of you tomorrow.
Ends/Saturday, December 3, 2016