|WASHINGTON - The 30 OECD nations have agreed in principle to strengthen environmental standards for companies bidding on contracts to build dams, power plants, roads and other projects around the world with funding from export credit agencies, U.S. officials said last week.|
The officials called the pact on voluntary standards a boon to U.S. firms which have long said they were disadvantaged by having to respect the U.S. Export-Import Bank\'s environmental guidelines of while their rivals faced weaker or no standards.
While the new guidelines would not necessarily be as stringent as those of the United States, the officials said they would force firms bidding on infrastructure contracts to abide by far tougher environmental rules than they do now.
The pact had been expected to be signed in Paris last week but has been delayed by an intra-European dispute, the U.S. officials said, saying they expected it to be signed soon, possibly as early as Dec. 18.
\"We\'re within an eyelash of closing this deal,\" said U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Alan Larson.
As described by the U.S. officials, the agreement would call on members of the Paris-based Organization for Cooperation and Development to adhere to the environmental standards of the host country where a project would take place.
Further, they should adhere to the standards of relevant international organizations like the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Asian Development Bank, if these were more stringent than those of the host country.
While U.S. officials acknowledged the tentative agreement - which one said would take the form of an OECD recommendation - does not legally bind the countries, they said in practice that OECD members tend to follow such agreements.
They said the agreement provides for a monitoring mechanism that would allow other OECD members to keep track of and publicly expose failures to abide.
\"It\'s a victory for the environment and it\'s a victory for U.S. exporters who will now face a more level playing field in the international marketplace, allowing U.S. companies and U.S. workers to compete on quality and price ... rather than on which environmental standards would be applied,\" said Peter Saba, general counsel at the Export-Import Bank.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE