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Thursday, 19 May 2011

US presses green growth in Asia

May 18, 2011

Warning that the era of cheap fuel was over, the United States has called for Pacific Rim economies to knock down trade barriers to spur growth in clean energy.

President Barack Obama's administration, which faces domestic opposition on climate change, is putting a high priority on the environment as the United States this year chairs the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Meeting senior APEC trade officials at the snow-covered ski resort of Big Sky, Montana, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said that millions of green jobs are waiting to be created from the factory floor to the construction sector.

"In the next few decades, world economies will need to rebuild and reinvent virtually every industrial activity -- from power generation and transportation to manufacturing and construction -- all to succeed in an energy environment that looks drastically different from the one that we're used to," Locke said.

"For well over 100 years, much of the world enjoyed two luxuries that helped propel the greatest burst of sustained economic growth in human history.

"Fossil fuels were cheap and abundant. And number two: we either didn't know about or didn't care about impact to our planet from greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning those fuels," he said. "Those days are over."

But Locke said that clean energy needed entrepreneurs -- and that the Asia-Pacific region had too many barriers to trade.

He pointed to US concerns about lack of protection for intellectual property, along with transportation costs, customs clearance delays and lack of access to financing.

APEC includes rising powers in clean energy such as China, which has surpassed the United States as the top investor in green technology even as its carbon emissions keep soaring forward.

The United States has been seeking incremental progress with China in setting the guidelines for fighting climate change, amid an unsure outlook in UN-led talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Obama's rivals in the Republican Party gained ground in congressional elections last year and are deeply suspicious about action on climate change, with many saying that it would prove too costly at a time of high oil prices and unemployment.

With Republicans on the offensive and US gas prices near record highs, Obama recently defied environmentalists by agreeing to speed up oil and gas drilling.

Separately, APEC -- which accounts for nearly half of the world's food production -- signed an agreement with the World Bank to improve the safety of produce as the global supply chain becomes increasingly complex.

While in its preliminary stages, the agreement called for training programs to improve controls over food safety.

"At every step along the way, there are opportunities unfortunately for the introduction of contamination, or adulteration, of products," said Margaret Hamburg, head of the US Food and Drug Administration.

"We have an obligation to do everything we can to ensure the safety and integrity of the supply chain," she told reporters.

The Big Sky talks are also looking at a way forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement linking nine countries that set a goal of reaching a framework in time for APEC's November summit in Hawaii.

The talks involve Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. An agreement would mark a rare success in global trade diplomacy amid the deadlock in World Trade Organization talks.

The Obama administration is hoping to win over critics of free trade by including labor and environmental standards in the deal.

Copyright © 2011 AFP.


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