An Update on the Environmental Goods Agreement

By Dan Coughlin

For a year, ACMA has been active in negotiations related to the Environmental Goods Act (EGA), which strives to cut tariffs on environmental goods. In March 2015, ACMA’s Utility & Communications Structures Council (UCSC) decided to pursue the inclusion of FRP composite utility poles and crossarms in the EGA being negotiated through the World Trade Organization in Geneva. I traveled to Geneva in May 2015 to represent ACMA and build support for the first step, which is to be nominated.

The first task was to build the case including FRP utility poles and crossarms under the category of Environmentally Preferred Products (EPP) to prevent contamination of soil and groundwater, limit human exposure to hazards and reduce hazardous waste. Over 5 million wood poles are replaced every year, creating a large amount of chemically-treated waste. Unlike treated wood poles, composite poles are environmentally inert.

In September 2015, FRP utility poles and crossarms were nominated by Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) to be included in the EGA. The following month, ACMA testified before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), an independent federal agency that provides trade expertise to both the legislative and executive branches. ACMA’s testimony, based on input from members of the composites industry, supported elimination of tariff barriers for FRP utility poles and crossarms.

A significant side benefit to this testimony is that FRP composites are being recognized for their environmental advantages. This benefits the entire composites industry – especially those market segments where governments have a stake in procurement, such as state-owned utilities and infrastructure.

Now that composites have been nominated for inclusion in the EGA, the next step is to build support to include them in the final agreement. In December 2015, ACMA staff joined the Coalition for Green Trade in Geneva to answer questions about the nomination from the 17 EGA countries. The Coalition for Green Trade is a network of businesses in the U.S. who are working to increase exports of U.S. produced products, including GE, Walmart and Honeywell.  A strict timetable has not been set, but it is hoped that the EGA agreement will be finalized in late 2016.