U.S.’s green trade ambitions needn’t wait on Doha Round

If President Barack Obama is to deliver on his ambitious goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years, it will be essential for the United States to pursue an aggressive strategy to help American businesses access international markets. One promising place to begin is at the intersection of trade and the environment.

The Obama administration sent new signals in its annual trade policy agenda that it will use government muscle to advance environmentally friendly trade policies. The U.S. Trade Representative set out a plan to open foreign markets for U.S. exports, which includes significant mention of policies designed to open trade for environmental purposes.

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One of those efforts is to lower or eliminate barriers to green goods and services. The administration indicated that it would seek “to fast-track the elimination of tariffs on goods directly relevant to addressing climate change,” breathing life into an effort that has been languishing as part of the long-stalled Doha Round of trade negotiations. USTR’s indication that it would work with “like-minded and ambitious WTO members” on an agreement suggests they may move forward on a green trade agreement even without the rest of the Doha Round, a move the National Foreign Trade Council supports.

The administration has also focused on promoting American ideas and protecting the intellectual property behind U.S. clean technologies. Making sure U.S. trading partners enforce IP rules overseas helps spur investment and jobs in the United States and creates the conditions that can facilitate research and sharing of technologies with other countries.

A potential deliverable in this area this year is the establishment of a technology cooperation mechanism, which was written into the Copenhagen climate accord. Devising a mechanism which relies on the current system of intellectual property rules, and which uses financing to make up funding gaps and strengthen legal protections abroad, would benefit U.S. exporters and our partners in the developing world.

Environmentally friendly trade policies should be a high priority for the administration this year. Securing access to international markets would help create clean energy jobs in the United States. Lowering trade barriers would reduce the cost of environmental technologies globally and increase access to those technologies. Promoting global enforcement of intellectual property rules would benefit U.S. innovators and facilitate better commercial relations between the United States and our trading partners.

Green trade is also bipartisan and enjoys support from a diverse group that includes Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.). And in a year where progress on domestic carbon-pricing legislation or in global climate negotiations may be slow, green trade offers chances to demonstrate global leadership on the environment.
From Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues, National Foreign Trade Council, Washington

Abolish double tax on telecommuters

(Regarding article, “Cautious Obama joins climate fray” March 10.) One way energy and climate legislation can double as a jobs bill is by including measures to promote telecommuting. Telecommuting reduces fuel consumption and carbon emissions by enabling Americans to rely more on broadband and less on cars, trains and buses for transportation. At the same time, telecommuting can facilitate job growth. It enables businesses to hire new personnel without increasing their real estate, energy and other overhead expenses. It enables them to choose the most qualified candidates from anywhere in the country while shrinking their recruitment budgets.

Similarly, telework enables jobless Americans, especially those with unsalable homes, to expand the region where they can look for work. It can make employment possible for disabled Americans with limited mobility and for Americans with care-giving responsibilities that preclude daily on-site work.

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The energy package should offer tax credits for telecommuting, including credits for both employees and businesses. It should also abolish tax disincentives to telecommute — like the telecommuter penalty. As things stand now, a state can tax nonresidents who work for in-state employers and sometimes opt to telecommute — not only on the part of their salaries they earn inside the state, but also on the part of their salaries they earn in their state of residence. Since the home state can also tax the income these employees earn at home, many Americans are taxed twice because they telework.

The double-tax penalty for telecommuting across state lines makes the practice unaffordable for many Americans. As a result, it thwarts both individuals and businesses trying to use telework to reduce their carbon footprints and enter cost-effective employment relationships. To improve energy security, slow climate change and drive employment, Congress should eliminate the tax barrier to telework and replace it with tax advantages.

From Nicole Belson Goluboff, esq., Scarsdale, N.Y.