* Will slash tariffs on environmental technology by 2015
* U.S.-led regional free trade talks to push ahead
* Pacific rim trade forecast to grow rapidly
* APEC leaders hold summit at weekend
By Douglas Busvine
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, Sept 7 Asia-Pacific nations
have made a breakthrough in promoting trade in 'green'
technology, and the United States is pressing ahead with efforts
to carve out a regional free-trade zone, a senior U.S. official
said on Friday.
Speaking before a summit of leaders of the 21-member
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Deputy U.S. Trade
Representative Demetrios Marantis said the group had agreed to
slash import duties on technologies that can promote economic
growth without endangering the environment.
"This is really a significant achievement, in that it shows
how APEC can lead," Marantis told Reuters in an interview after
ministers finished their preparations for the summit on Saturday
and Sunday in the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok.
"It allows us to accomplish the twin goals of liberalising
trade and green growth."
Ministers agreed on a list of 54 green technologies that
will be subject to import duties of 5 percent or less from 2015,
following through on a commitment made by leaders at the last
APEC summit in Honolulu a year ago.
According to summit documents seen by Reuters, the list
includes equipment used in generating power from renewable
energy sources such as the sun, wind and biomass; treating waste
water; recycling and environmental monitoring.
Officials have described the clean technology initiative as
a main summit "deliverable" for APEC, a consensus-based group
that focuses on economic issues and links rising nations led by
China with advanced economies such as the United States.
APEC accounts for 40 percent of the world's population, 54
percent of economic output and 44 percent of trade. Exports
within the group are forecast by consultancy firm PwC to nearly
treble over the next decade to $14.6 trillion while exports to
non-APEC countries will double to $5.6 trillion, making the
Pacific Rim the focus of global growth in the years to come.
APEC will next year tackle so-called local content
requirements, which are in effect import restrictions that in
the view of the United States distort trade.
The diverse nature of the Pacific-Rim economies, which
unlike crisis-hit Europe are showing relatively strong growth,
has led some APEC countries to join Washington in pushing for a
new free-trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Marantis said trade ministers from nine nations
participating in the TPP talks had met in Vladivostok and
affirmed their determination to move ahead at negotiations to be
hosted next week by the United States in Leesburg, Virginia.
The Leesburg talks will be the 14th round in a TPP process
that was initiated by APEC leaders at a summit two years ago.
Negotiators will seek to iron out further details of a
29-chapter multilateral free trade deal.
The TPP groups the United States, Vietnam, Brunei,
Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Peru,
while Canada and Mexico are due to be formally admitted to the
discussions in October.
Marantis said the group was "working together to create a
high-standard, 21st-century trade agreement that addresses a lot
of problems that exporters are facing in a way that will grow
jobs and create new opportunities for exporters."
There are no deadlines for finalising the TPP deal, but
Marantis said negotiators were seeking to complete the bulk of
their work next year.
"Substance will drive timing - that's what's really
important," Marantis said. "If you look at how much progress
we've been able to make in such a short amount of time we're
working to wrap up as much as possible over the course of 2013."
The TPP ties in with President Barack Obama's goal of
doubling U.S. exports within five years of his election in 2008,
and has been described as the biggest free trade pact since the
1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
China, the world's second-largest economy, is not a party to
the process while APEC summit host Russia - which has only just
joined the World Trade Organisation - says it is not ready to
look at joining the TPP.
The Citizens Trade Campaign, a U.S. umbrella group, has
criticised the TPP process as overly secretive and has called
demonstrations against the Leesburg talks, fearing that a free
trade deal could result in the loss of American jobs.