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Wednesday, February 27, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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China, U.S. to talk energy in Gig Harbor

Seattle Times business reporter

The United States and China, the two biggest energy users and emitters of greenhouse gas, will hold high-level talks in Washington state this weekend aimed at furthering cooperation on energy and clean technology, Sen. Maria Cantwell said Tuesday.

The talks, taking place Sunday in Gig Harbor, aim to make energy a key part of the regular meetings on trade and economic issues known as the U.S. China Strategic Economic Dialogue. A business group will meet Chinese visitors separately in Seattle and Spokane.

It's a way for the Northwest "to become the focal point of what are two of the biggest issues moving forward: China and energy," Cantwell said.

Kicking off the U.S.-China Energy Dialogue, officials from the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments and the Environmental Protection Agency will meet with members of China's National Development Reform Commission, the country's top agency in charge of economic planning and energy issues.

"The world's largest economy and its fastest-growing emerging economy have a shared responsibility to address the dual challenges of environmental sustainability and energy security," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in a statement. "This weekend's meeting will be the next step in a partnership focused on developing a long-term strategic plan. ... "

While trade talks with China have stumbled on issues like the value of the Chinese currency, participants say there is more room for progress on energy.

"I think it's very much an area in which we have mutual goals," Cantwell said in an interview. While China needs help finding more renewable-energy sources and cleaning its environment, "it's an opportunity for the U.S. to play a key role in providing energy solutions, which is not only good for the U.S. economy but obviously good environmentally in reducing CO2 emissions."

China and the U.S. use one-third of the world's total oil, more than the next top 10 nations combined, Cantwell said, adding that China's energy spending reaches $35 billion a year.

"We'd like them to be less reliant on oil from Darfur and buying more clean energy from the U.S.," she said.

China has said it would double its target for energy from renewable sources to 16 percent of the total by 2020. It also has a five-year plan to cut carbon-dioxide emissions. But it is adding a new 1,000-megawatt coal plant each week, so reaching those goals is a challenge.

Seattle and the Northwest not only have innovative energy solutions, but also a record of successful business with Asia, said Cantwell, who started talking to Chinese counterparts two years ago and worked to bring the meetings here.

Seattle is in a position to be "the Davos of U.S.-China relations," said Dennis Bracy, president of the Washington State China Relations Council.

Separately, a private-sector group will begin what it's calling the U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum over the weekend in Seattle and Spokane. It plans to visit energy-technology companies in Spokane on Sunday.

The business group is being led by Stanley Barer, chairman emeritus of Seattle shipping company Saltchuk Resources; former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills; Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Michael J. Phillips, chairman of Russell Investment Group; and Mickey Kantor, former U.S. commerce secretary.

However, some key barriers to business need to be addressed, Bracy said. Lack of intellectual-property protection, for example, has discouraged local companies from bringing cutting-edge technology to China. At the same time, some Chinese companies have technologies that could be shared.

One solution floated by the group is to create a joint venture between the two governments to serve as a mutual repository for intellectual property.

Licensing rights to the technology could be sold through it, Bracy said. "Does it mean no one will ever steal again? No. But if you steal you'll have to steal from the two governments," he said.

Forum sponsors include Microsoft, Boeing, Garvey Schubert Barer, Russell Investment Group, Itron, Puget Sound Energy, University of Washington, Port of Seattle and the Washington State China Relations Council.

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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