Environmentalists wary of US – China environmental agreement

Environmentalists have denounced the US House of Representative's decision to normalise trade relations with China, despite the fact that the two countries have just signed an agreement to co-operate more closely on environmental protection.

A coalition of pro-environmental congressmen and environmental groups have criticised the US House of Representative’s vote approving the establishment of permanent normal trading relations (PNTR) with China.

Normalising of trade relations between the two countries is essential if a recently passed US-China trade agreement is to go ahead, and if China is to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The environmental coalition accuses the House of Representatives of putting the interests of big business before the environment. The coalition adds that the US should have sought assurances that China would not seek to weaken endangered species regulations and invasive species protections once it enters the WTO. It says the US should also have promoted the export of clean, renewable energy technology to China, which has severe air pollution problems (see related story).

The criticisms come despite the signing of a joint US-China statement that pledges to lead to closer co-operation between the two countries on environmental protection.

The joint statement – which was signed by US Ambassador Joseph Prueher and the Chinese Minister of Science and Technology, Zhu Lilan in Beijing – states the two countries “can achieve sustained economic growth while protecting the environment and taking actions to combat climate change.”

The result of negotiations carried out by the US-China Forum on Environment and Development, the joint statement sets out the countries’ willingness “to entertain new and creative thinking and approaches to co-operation between developed and developing countries on climate change.”

The statement claims that China’s entry into the WTO could advance its clean energy and environmental protection efforts by accelerating the greater use of environmentally-sound technologies in China. It adds that the two countries’ intend “to work together to assure than any increased trade flows will not undercut natural resource management and species protection programmes.”

However, environmentalists are sceptical. They say the joint statement is intended merely as a distraction from the main trade agreement. “There’s no teeth to the agreement, nothing that’s going to make a difference,” a Friends of the Earth spokesperson told edie. “It is an effort to wallpaper over the glaring problems and omissions of the trade agreement between the US and China. The reality is that if Clinton or Gore really cared about the environment they could have made sure concerns about climate change and endangered species were built into the agreement. Instead they went for the money, preferring to negotiate for tariff reductions on SUVs rather than on clean energy technology.”

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