The U.S. proposed carbon tariffs, WTO scrutiny and China’s responses
With countries from around the world set to meet in Copenhagen to try to hammer out a post-2012 climate change agreement, no one would disagree that a U.S. commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions is essential to such a global pact. However, despite U.S. president Obama’s recent announcement that he will push for a commitment to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020, in reality it is questionable whether U.S. Congress will agree to specific emissions cuts, although are not ambitious at all from the perspectives of both the EU and developing countries, without imposing carbon tariffs on Chinese products to the U.S. market, even given China’s own recent announcement to voluntarily seek to reduce its carbon intensity by 40-45% over the same period. This dilemma is partly attributed to flaws in current international climate negotiations, which have been focused on commitments on the two targeted dates of 2020 and 2050. However, if the international climate change negotiations continue their current course without extending the commitment period to 2030, which would really open the possibility for the U.S. and China to make the commitments that each wants from the other side, the inclusion of border carbon adjustment measures seems essential to secure passage of any U.S. legislation capping its greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the joint WTO-UNEP report indicates that border carbon adjustment measures might be allowed under the existing WTO rules, depending on specific design features. Against this background, this paper argues that, on the U.S. side, there is a need to minimize the potential conflicts with WTO provisions in designing such border carbon adjustment measures. The U.S. also needs to explore with its trading partners cooperative sectoral approaches to advancing low-carbon technologies and/or concerted mitigation efforts in a given sector at an international level. Moreover, to increase the prospects for a successful WTO defence of the Waxman-M
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